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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: The Muppets (2011)

* * *

Director: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams

At times it's difficult to say who The Muppets is really geared to, a new generation of young viewers, or older viewers looking for a hit of nostalgia. I'd give the edge to the nostalgia crowd, but ultimately The Muppets is a film that can appeal to viewers of all ages. Although it is not without a few weaknesses, it's one of the more entertaining musical comedies to come out in quite a while.

The protagonists of The Muppets aren't any of the Muppets of tradition, but brothers Walter and Gary (Jason Segel). Both become fans of The Muppet Show as children, although Walter, being a Muppet himself, is the bigger fan of the two. When Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), surprise Walter with a trip to Los Angeles, he's thrilled because it means that he can finally tour the Muppets studio. When they arrive and find the studio rundown and abandoned, and learn that an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is planning to tear it down to drill for oil, Walter decides to alert the Muppets and try to save it.

Walter, Gary and Mary track down Kermit and then the rest of the gang (including Miss Piggy, currently working as an editor for Vogue Paris, of course), and plans are made to hold a benefit to raise money and save the theater. Although there are a couple of early glitches - the telethon gets turned down by several networks, the theater is in serious need of repair in order to put on a show, no host can be found until the Muppets kidnap Jack Black (who was Animal's anger management sponsor) and force him to host while tied to a chair - the show does go on, but whether the Muppets will be able to raise enough money to save their theater remains to be seen.

For the most part The Muppet works really well. It's stuffed with cameos, which is usually a bad thing but is relatively unintrusive here and doesn't grind the story to a halt as it so often does in other films. Of course it helps that you expect a film like this to have a lot of cameos anyway. The story is simple, but ultimately winning and the performances during the Muppets fundraiser are really entertaining. The weakness of the film, to my mind, is Walter who, although likeable enough, is never really as interesting as a character as any of the traditional Muppets. There's plenty of angst surrounding him, due primarily to his not knowing whether he belongs to the world of men or the world of Muppets, but no matter how much complexity the screenplay tries to give him, it's the Muppets who are the draw and the time spent dealing with Walter and his issues is time that you're not spending with the Muppets.

That being said, The Muppets is still a good movie. I never really warmed up to Walter, but it's ultimately a fairly minor criticism of the piece as a whole. Whether you're a longtime fan of the Muppets or being introduced to them for the first time, The Muppets is a film that delivers.

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