Who doesn’t love the Muppets?
After a gap of well over a decade the Muppets make a sensational return to the big screen. Is this move inspirational? Should we be celebrational in our response or is the result perhaps merely muppetational? Well this is what we call the Muppet Movie review: it will start with a basic plot synopsis, followed by a combination of individual paragraphs breaking the whole endeavour down and placing it in a wider post-modern context.
It’s time to get things started.
Gary (Jason Segel) has been in a relationship with his caring – and somewhat long-suffering – girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) for many years and how better to celebrate their forthcoming anniversary than by going on a holiday to the great cosmopolitan city of Los Angeles? Gary decides to take his enthusiastic brother Walter (Peter Linz) along too. Walter has a passionate need to see the (once famous, now seen only on poor quality television repeats) Muppets, arguably because he does seeem to be highly muppet-esque in his appearance. The problem is that the Muppets are facing hard times and the troupe have now split up, with varying fortunes: Miss Piggy is working for Vogue while Fozzie has been reduced to re-enacting his former life in Muppet tribute group The Moopets. Oh, and the famous Muppet Theatre is about to be acquired by brutal business tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who has discovered a financially lucrative oil reserve on the premises. How can the Muppets recover their old haunt? What could possibly get them back together again? Can the eternally decent Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) reinvent past successes with the help of enthusiastic newcomer Walter? And, on a more personal level, can Gary and Mary really maintain a romantic relationship?
A welcome return after a 12 year hiatus from our screens this latest Muppets movie is notably less of a high concept comedy than their previous ventures The Muppets in Space (1999) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996) offered. This is, instead, a return to their former days updated for the twenty-first century with its new perspectives on culture and commercialism. The Muppets always had a sense of post-modernity, intellectual gags, sharp one-liners and just good ol’ popular slapstick with an air of joie de vivre which has kept the characters fresh and engaging for years. Some of the comedy also, in many ways, refers to the early cinema of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton currently being ‘remarkably rediscovered’ as people enjoy the silent film The Artist (2011). The Artist is very much about the end of silent cinema – rightly argued as not altogether a positive thing, but in The Muppets we can see some of the more positive aspects of the emergence of sound: Fozzie has fart shoes for one thing. And it is a musical.
The musical is post Mamma-Mia and the Devil Wears Piggy, sorry, Prada, and this does help the film appeal to a wider audience, assisted by James Bobin’s thoughtful direction. Some musical elements return from the original The Muppet Movie (1979) with its Paul Williams song ‘The Rainbow Connection’ but we are also treated to a post-modern and occasionally ironic twist to some modern pop/rock songs, most notably Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, which – in a stroke of genius – is covered by the Muppet barbershop quartet. Also of note is drummer Dave Grohl’s role in the film, one of the many cameos, here a drummer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Animal, the Muppet every drummer wants to be. The appearance of famous faces in cameo roles is an important part of the Muppet blueprint and recalls the many notable guests from their TV show as well as the famous faces who graced their films. Indeed the movie works precisely because it is familiar to those who fondly and nostalgically remember the Muppets from their childhood and yet is designed to engage a younger audience too.