Posted by Damon O'Hanlon
Title: The Muppets
Genre: Comedy, Musical
I have a terrible confession to make: I basically missed out on the Muppets as a kid. I knew they existed. For instance, I knew my sister Adrienne had a favorite joke involving Kermit being nearly “gone with the Schwinn.” I also watched a little Sesame Street here and there. However, it was not until Christmas of last year that I watched a Muppet movie from start to finish (the excellent A Muppet Christmas Carol.)
So it was with relatively fresh eyes that I went and saw The Muppets last week. For those of you who don’t know, the Muppets go back quite a ways. Jim Henson started his creation back in 1954. The Muppets last major movie, Muppets from Space, which hit theaters in 1999. So it’s been twelve years since the Muppets were up on the silver screen. And do you know something? Their recent outing does not disappoint.
As the movie opens, we are introduced to Walter and Gary, the best of brothers. Only Gary is human while Walter is decidedly Muppetish. How this is possible never really gets explained. What we do know is the pair live in Smalltown, USA, where Gary has been wholesomely dating Mary for the last ten years. During a visit to Los Angeles, the three of them discover that heartless oil baron Tex Richman plans to buy and then demolish The Muppet Theater. The rest of the movie revolves around trying to unite the far-flung Muppets for a musical telethon that could save their theater.
One charming thing about The Muppets is that it doesn’t run from its history. There’s very little if anything in the way of awkward attempts to update the franchise. You won’t find any CGI here. Instead, The Muppets pokes fun at its nostalgic feel. As Kermit goes in search of the telethon’s celebrity host, he flips through a rolodex of old friends including names like Molly Ringwald and Jimmy Carter.
Much of The Muppet’s humor comes in this self-aware form. At one point a character complains, “How come you didn’t use me in the montage?” and one of the most endearing musical numbers has the main characters ruminating on their confusing identities, a ditty entitled Man or Muppet. After a large opening number, a crowd of backup singers and dancers collapses, grateful that the main characters have finally departed.
As any big fan of the Muppets knows, another large component of the humor (and one more accessible to kids) is an abundance of slapstick. When most of your characters are squishy puppets, you can imagine how easy it is to do physical comedy. At various junctures muppets get hit, thrown, exploded and even electrocuted. Squeamish parents might find the gags objectionable, but for most it will fall within the bounds of cartoonishly acceptable. Thankfully, neither the adult nor childish humor is so strong that it overpowers the other.
The last thing I will say about The Muppets, and the thing that nearly pushes it into A-list territory, is the welcome emotional range. Those familiar with contemporary children’s media know that most of it is incessantly happy, and that in the end even the bad guys aren’t all that bad. Not so with the Muppets. Tex Richman is unneccessarily mean and aggressive, and various Muppets take turns at being sad, reflective, hurt and insecure. One of my favorite songs was the heart-rendingly sincere Pictures In My Head.
“Just because you haven’t found your talent yet, doesn’t mean you don’t have one." – Kermit
The only reason The Muppets doesn’t get a higher grade from me is because the film starts off a little stronger than it finishes, unable to fully sustain some of its more mature themes and excellent musical numbers in its final half-hour.