The Muppets (2011) Review

Roaring back to the big screen in great form, the Muppets entertain with big laughs, a fun concept and wonderful celebrity cameos. The formula of The Muppets is pitch perfect and the comedy and story never take themselves too seriously – or even seriously at all – but that’s part of the charm. Most of all, the Muppets have remained true to their core and any lifelong fans in the audience will feel that The Muppets is a natural progression for this gang of misfits that have been delighting viewers for decades.

Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) and Gary (Jason Segal) are brothers. Ironically, Walter is a Muppet who never felt like he belonged. When he discovered The Muppets on television, however, his life changed as he watched kindred spirits perform for adoring audiences over the years. Now adults, Gary is in love with Mary (Amy Adams), and the couple is due to celebrate an upcoming anniversary. To make the occasion truly memorable, Gary has arranged a trip to Los Angeles so that Mary can see the sights and Walter can visit the Muppet Theater. Once in LA, events take a dark turn when Walter discovers how badly the Muppet Theater has fallen into disrepair from lack of use. Worse yet, the terms of a signed contract could hand the theater property to greedy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) if the sum of ten million dollars isn’t raised by a certain date. With such strong feelings for the Muppets, Walter takes it upon himself to reunite the group in order to run a telethon in the hopes of earning enough money in time to save the theater.

If the Muppets were a brand new concept created today, it’s unlikely that they would ever become popular. Frankly, they’re a little weird. Bunsen is a scientist with no eyes. Beaker is his assistant who only speaks in “meeps”. Gonzo is a hook-nosed creature with an affinity for death-defying stunts.  Fortunately, they have a storied history that longtime fans will appreciate. On the other hand, the filmmakers were wise to ease new audiences into Muppet lore through smart storytelling. So it won’t really matter if you don’t know who Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy are; The Muppets tells a fresh, complete story that fans and newcomers will enjoy.

The charm of the Muppets exists in absurdity and that tradition continues here. Characters are constantly making self-aware meta statements about the film. Early on, when the crisis is revealed, two characters wonder aloud about how important to the story what they just said was. Later, when Kermit douses Walter’s plan to reunite the Muppets, Mary laments, “This is gonna be a short movie!” Of course, the Muppets and the human characters are individually absurd as well. Fozzie Bear continues to tell his awful one-liners. Miss Piggy is as vain as ever despite still being a pig. Tex Richman is so evil he is incapable of laughing, so he commands his underlings to laugh for him. It’s silly, but in an ironic, smart way that everyone can appreciate on some level.

The other staple of Muppet entertainment is the strong musical element. Seemingly taking a cue from their captive celebrity guest Jack Black, the Muppets perform a series of modern classics, including a barber shop version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and a clucked version of Ceelo Green’s Forget You performed by chickens. There are also a few original numbers and group dance sequences to spice things up. Refreshingly, The Muppets doesn’t try to fit the singing in naturally, which usually has the opposite effect. Instead, everyone acknowledges that a musical number is breaking out and they simply go along, subconsciously encouraging audiences to do the same. Those who don’t appreciate musicals will find it hard not to get swept up in the fun.

It’s always refreshing to have a Muppets movie every few years, because the characters never change. They may have new experiences and visit new locations, but audiences can always count on their core traits and values, which have always been wholesome and never mean spirited. While the Muppets have been on hiatus a little longer than usual, they have returned in fine form in one of the more entertaining films this year.