Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Muppets / *** (PG)

Gary: Jason Segel
Mary: Amy Adams
Tex Richman: Chris Cooper
Veronica Martin: Rashida Jones
Jack Black: Jack Black

The Muppets:
Walter: Peter Linz
Kermit/Beaker/Statler/Rizzo: Steve Whitmire
Miss Piggy/Fozzie Bear/Animal/Sam Eagle/Marvin Suggs: Eric Jacobson
Gonzo/Dr. Bunsen Honeydew/Zoot/Beauregard/Waldorf/Kermit Moopet: Dave Goelz
Swedish Chef/Rowlf/Dr. Teeth/Pepe the Prawn/Bobo/Fozzie Moopet: Bill Barretta
Scooter/Janice/Miss Poogy: David Rudman
Sgt. Floyd Pepper/Camilla/Sweatums/80’s Robot/Lew Zealand/Uncle Deadly/Roowlf/Crazy Harry: Matt Vogel

Alan Arkin, Bill Cobbs, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, James Carville, Leslie Feist, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, David Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Rico Rodriguez, Mickey Rooney

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by James Bobin. Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Based on the characters created by Jim Henson. Running time: 98 min. Rated PG (for some mild rude humor).

I believe “The Muppet Show” was the first television show that I followed with fervor. I wanted to see every episode as it originally aired. I couldn’t wait to see what guest star was hosting each week. Mark Hamil from “Star Wars” was the pinnacle of television awesomeness for me. The truth is, however, that the guest stars really had pretty small roles in “The Muppet Show” universe, because there was always so much going on backstage with the Muppet characters. What insults were Statler and Waldorf going to sling this week? How mad would Piggy get at some innocuous gesture by her Kermy? The recurring sketches—Pigs in Space, the Swedish Chef, Mahna-mahna, etc.—were a great draw as well.

It appears that “The Muppet Show” made just as profound an impression on Jason Segel, who stars and co-wrote the script with his writing partner Nicholas Stoller. Clearly the Muppets’s jump to the big screen in 1979’s “The Muppet Movie” was just as monumental to them as it was to me and hundreds of thousands of other kids at the time. These are two artists who have made their names with very adult gross-out comedies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. Now, they’ve created a loving tribute to their childhood obsession with “The Muppets”, which finds Segel rounding up the old gang of Muppets to put together a show to save the old theater. It’s a story line right out of the Introduction to Hollywood textbook, and it’s a perfect vehicle for the Muppets.

To ensure the tap into all of the Muppet generation’s nostalgia, Segel takes us back to the late 70’s when the boy version of his character, Gary, watched the original “Muppet Show” with his inexplicably Muppet brother, Walter (voiced by Peter Linz). As the two grow older, Walter finds his experiences and physical body don’t grow like Gary’s because of his… well, Muppetness. Eventually the Muppets are the only thing left that he can relate to, although the humans in this universe seem to operate in a Hollywood fantasy world where the whole population of their hometown will break out into song to wish each other well. Still, it’s not like being surrounded by other cloth beings that don’t blink or age in any discernable way.

Gary and his girlfriend, Mary—played by the born to be in a Muppet movie Amy Adams (“Enchanted”)—plan a romantic trip to Los Angeles. Much to Mary’s chagrin, Gary can’t help from inviting Walter along to visit the former Muppet Studios. Meanwhile, the evil oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, “Where the Wild Things Are”) has purchased the dilapidated property with plans to tear it down and drill for oil. Something tells me the citizens of Los Angeles wouldn’t be any happier about this development than the Muppets. Regardless, the only way to save the property is to gather the old gang back together and put on a show.

The writers and their director, James Bobin, have a good deal of Muppets-style fun in gathering the gang together. The Muppets seem to take great joy in reminding the audience of the fact that they are watching a movie. After it is pointed out that the process of finding everybody is taking too long, someone suggests that they round everyone else up via montage. And, when they find that Piggy is in Paris where they can hardly travel by car, they decide to travel by movie map, which allows them to travel as a red line on a map until they magically appear on the coast of France.

In true Muppets tradition there are several song and dance numbers and a multitude of guest star cameos. Jack Black (“Gulliver’s Travels”) shows up as himself to play the unwilling host of their show. There are some funny moments as the Muppets sell the idea to the audience that Black’s shtick for the show is that he’s an unwilling host. Black spends the entire program tied to a chair.

“The Muppets” is far from cinematic art, but it is a fun time for both adults and children. The Muppets aren’t action heroes. They’re thoughtful fully formed characters that are willing to star in a movie that depends upon heart. “The Muppets” is a welcome return to form for the once diminishing franchise. With it’s renewed spirit; hopefully the Muppets will be starring in many more movies to come.

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