While Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, the Smurfs and even Yoda have been altered over the years into digital versions of their earlier (and better) selves, it’s nice to see that Jim Henson’s Muppets are still the fuzzy, ping pong ball-eyed, felt puppets with gigantic personalities that we remember. One that we haven’t met before is Walter, who was raised in a human household with a protective older brother named Gary (Jason Segal).
Walter knows of Henson’s Muppets and his dream is to visit the legendary Muppet Theater and connect with his fellow Muppets. Problem is, this road trip interrupts a romantic getaway Gary has planned with his sweet girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), who tags along gamely while the brothers search Hollywood for Kermit the Frog.
The first real Muppet movie since Muppets From Space in 1999 is agreeably silly and occasionally hilarious but best seen with lowered expectations. Like the impossibly hyped and heavily debated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the best scenes are truly dazzling but there are huge script problems and a few really bad scenes.
There’s a lot of forced whimsy and look-how-amusing-we-are moments that aren’t actually very amusing. Chris Cooper plays the villain of the piece and has an embarrassing rap number that is easily the film’s out-of-place, what-were-they-thinking low point. The comic bits that sink are as groan worthy as one of Fozzie Bear’s stale jokes, though at least Fozzie is supposed to be unfunny.
The story forgets that it’s about Gary and Mary, leaving Segal (who co-wrote) and Adams looking like they’re trying hard just to stay in the movie, let alone share the same frame with a squadron of Muppets. Segal mugs too much, even for this movie; unlike Michael Caine in The Muppets Christmas Carol, Segal acts like he knows he’s sharing the screen with puppets and appears happy to be talking to Kermit more than anything else. Adams can’t reprise her Enchanted allure for this type of movie because, this time, her character stinks.
It tries hard to recapture the feel and general plot line of The Muppet Movie and only sporadically succeeds. Most of the live action cast isn’t very good and none of the celebrity cameos are wow worthy. No offense to Selena Gomez and Whoopi Goldberg, but they’re no Steve Martin or Richard Pryor (let alone Orson Welles). Yet, while this may not be the ultimate triumph that Muppet fans have hoped for, the jokes that work are laugh-yourself-stupid howlers.
Of the handful of musical numbers, the reprisal of Muppet standards work best, though Segal’s “Man or Muppet” is a showstopper. For a warm, fuzzy, tear jerking and very green hit of nostalgia, nothing beats Kermit’s strumming “Rainbow Connection” on his banjo.
For explosive chuckles, the scene stealing “80’s Robot” (a new character and my favorite in the film), Camilla the Chicken, a post-rehab Animal, and Rowlf the Dog deliver the biggest wocka wockas.
The Muppets is more of a 2011 fanboy reinvention and Segal’s updated ode to all things Muppet than something that fits easily alongside The Muppets Take Manhattan. It’s a hit and miss, hipster spinoff that tonally resembles the short-lived, uneven but amusing Muppets Tonight! TV show.
Not everyone will mind the sketchy plot and lifelong fans will be accustomed to cheesiness banging up against genuine comic inspiration, but this movie is best when the focus is on pure Muppet showmanship and avoids the story and humans altogether. Kids, children at heart, frogs and Gonzos will probably walk away smiling.
Rated PG/98 Minutes