It is a downright disgrace that it took so long for the Muppets to recapture everyone’s hearts again. For some of us they never went away, with The Muppet Show a permanent fixture within our collections and the best of the previous movies permanently in rotation (especially at Christmas when A Muppet Christmas Carol is now a tradition). But Hollywood definitely forgot, after poor sequels and a distinct lack of fresh ideas undermined the fundamental appeal of Jim Henson’s characters, and unthinkably the puppets were consigned to a dusty backroom on an unused Hollywood lot.
But now thanks to Jason Segel, writing partner Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin it’s time to play the music once again, and it doesn’t look like the lights are going to go out again any time soon. Because the team that have brought the Muppets back to the big screen, and kicked off a second serious love affair with the characters in such a way that makes their absence all the more bewildering.
The story follows Segel’s Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), residents of Smalltown, USA who travel to Los Angeles for a romantic get-away with Gary’s younger brother Walter in tow. Though Gary and Mary’s story is a fundamental piece of the narrative, the real heart of the story belongs to Walter (Peter Linz), who rather brilliantly happens to be a muppet (though the fact is never explicitly explored to great effect in the script) and the Muppets’ biggest fan on a personal quest to follow in the footsteps of his idols.
To his dismay he discovers that the Los Angeles landmarks celebrating the Muppets – their theater and studio – have fallen into disarray and the world seems to have forgotten about them without many spilled tears. Worse still he overhears a plot by evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to take the deeds of the Muppet landmarks for the oil beneath them and unless the Muppets can raise the necessary $10 million to take control of the expiring lease. Problem is, they aren’t talking and they’re scattered around getting on with new lives.
Cue a Blues Brothers style teaming-up sequence, in which the usual players are brought back into play from those new lives: Gonzo as a plumbing magnate, Fozzy in a cheap Muppet tribute act and Miss Piggy as the plus size editor for French Vogue (but of course!). The Muppets then set about putting on their last great hurrah to defy Richman, their tender-footed progress back to show-readiness paralleled with Walter’s growing sense of acceptance and belonging in the community, and given some balance by the threat to Gary and Mary’s relationship as Gary struggles to deal with the growing gap between himself and his increasingly happy brother.
Segel and Stoller’s script is very clever, balancing human elements with the usual, hugely welcome Muppet charm in a way that even the better old Muppets films occasionally missed, offering instead cameos in place of substantial human characters. Those cameos are still a big part of this new Muppets film, with eye-catching appearances from stars as diverse as Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney and Selena Gomez, but they aren’t the chief human element, to the film’s benefit.
The team’s manifesto was to channel the enduring original spirit of his subjects: bringing warmth and humour rather than cynicism or nastiness. Or in other words ignoring most of the defining characteristics of the comedy that has been most successful in recent years, and it almost works flawlessly, aside from the occasional slips towards over-reaching confidence. That problem rears its head in the extra features, where a couple of ambitious cameo-led sequences that aren’t funny, and an extended song sequence for Chris Cooper that is clunky and uncomfortable.
The cost of those necessary cuts comes to Cooper’s villain, whose original backstory was far more meatier, but thanks to the removal of two verses of his song disappears almost entirely, and he is left as something less substantial and more pantomime-like. It’s not really a major problem, but it might have been better for Cooper’s malevolence and eccentricity to have some basis in humanity.
But all-in-all, it’s a wonderfully entertaining experience, full of the charm and easy humour that fans have always associated with the Muppets. They just needed someone to treat them properly after a couple of poor movies and years of neglect.
We can only hope upon hope that the success of Segel’s Muppet movie leads to sustained Muppet presence, especially if it might lead to an outside chance of The Muppet Show itself returning to screens (after a frankly ridiculous 30 years), which will be a lot more welcome than any inferior sequels.
Brilliant. In both visual and audio terms The Muppets is a triumphant achievement. Detail, edge definition and textures are exceptional, which is particularly valuable to the muppets’ textures, and colours are vibrant and perfectly saturated. Black levels too are well presented and finely delineated, and contrast is spot on throughout the film. If there was any sign of artificial tinkering I didn’t notice it, and it helps ensure the film is an utterly entertaining experience.
The sound track is just as impressive, with perfectly clear dialogue, rich and engaging levels throughout the soundscape and wonderfully presented musical numbers with the appropriate impact. In other words, a near flawless soundtrack.
A funny but ultimately not particularly deep collection of features, which are summed up rather well by the name of the endearing behind-the-scenes featurette “Scratching The Surface”. There’s an audio commentary, which on paper sounded great – Jason Segel, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller sat in a room waxing lyrical about their passion project – but the reality of which is a lot more dull, sadly.
The Scratching the Surface doc is actually one of the highlights of the disc – the “Hasty Examination of the Making of The Muppets” offering a tongue-in-cheek parody of the usual behind-the-scenes features included in extra features these days and crucially including more Muppet charm for fans to enjoy. Same goes for the Blooper Reel, which also shows off the puppeteers’ conviction to their roles even between takes and some Deleted Scenes which offer little flashes of story detail in amongst some obviously poor sequences that deserved cutting.
Chief among those is a skit involving Ricky Gervais and Billy Crystal, and ends in Muppet incarceration which barely deserved to make it onto the deleted scenes list let alone the film. Additionally the full version of the Tex Richman Song is included (as it was on the official sound track album), which fleshed out the backstory of Tex, but which is also horribly uncomfortable to watch, Chris Cooper doing his very worst to ape the indescribable cool that Christopher Walken showed in the video for Weapon of Choice.
And finally, the excellent pre-release marketing campaign is celebrated with the inclusion of every spoof trailer released, the best of which was the brilliant Girl With The Dragon Tattoo redo. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more of that kind of quality material here – with the lack of a picture-in-picture viewing mode a major miss, given how good it would have been to have the Muppets commentating on their movie.
- Filmmakers Audio Commentary: With executive producer/co-writer/actor Jason Segel, executive producer/co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin.
- Scratching the Surface (HD, 16 minutes)
- 8 Deleted Scenes (HD, 10 minutes): “Walter’s Nightmare,” “Life’s A Happy Song Missing Verse,” “A Hero in Hollywood,” “Credit Card Club,” “Muppets in Jail,” “Bowling for Beaker,” “The Strip Mall Awards” and “The Complete Muppet Telethon Opening & More” — even though almost all of them were wisely cut.
- Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song (HD, 3 minutes)
- The Longest Blooper Reel Ever. At Least In Muppet History… We Think (HD, 9 minutes)
- A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read-Through (HD, 3 minutes): Kermit, Fozzie, Walter and the rest of the gang make their way to an afternoon read-through of the film’s script.
- Theatrical Spoof Trailers (HD, 9 minutes): “Rise of the Muppets,” “Never” “Green with Envy,” “The Fuzzy Pack,” “Being Green,” “The Piggy with the Froggy Tattoo” and “Green with Envy, the Spoof Spoof Trailer.”