Walter and Gary (Jason Segel) are as close as brothers can be despite their obvious differences. Gary is a near lummox of a man while Walter is a Muppet. (How these two came to be brothers is never explained and I, for one, love this fact.) Growing up, Walter is obsessed with the Muppets and whenever things get tough, Gary always cheers up his little brother by watching the famous TV show with him. When Gary plans a trip to Los Angeles with his fiancée Mary (Amy Adams), he invites Walter along for a tour of the Muppet Studios. But when they get to their destination, Walter finds the studios to be in severe disrepair and completely devoid of Muppets. To make matters worse, he overhears a conversation involving oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) describing his plot to take over the studio and tear it to the ground. Distraught, Walter and Gary track down Kermit the Frog to warn him of the studio’s impending doom. With limited funds available, the trio must get the old band back together in order to put together a Muppet telethon to save the studio.
From start to finish, The Muppets is about as much fun as you could possibly ask for in a movie. Segel’s script (along with the help of Nick Stoller) is a delightfully nostalgic piece of work that not only pays homage to the Muppet way of old but revels in it, making the decidedly retro feel of the film’s humor seem like a breath of fresh air. I love sarcasm as much as the next guy but to come across a movie that is genuinely funny without becoming snarky or mean-spirited in the slightest is a rarity these days. At the same time, the vast majority of the bits and jokes aren’t near as easy as I thought they might be. Instead, when confronted with low-hanging fruit, the dialogue takes the road less traveled to the betterment of the film as a whole. Very little within The Muppets is what you would call witty but that doesn’t mean it isn’t smart; it is just straightforward comedy that should appeal to both adults and children without any problem.
The story itself is a simple one as the tale of getting the Muppets back together and putting on one big show takes up the majority of the film’s narrative and isn’t in and of itself exceedingly original. But as a Muppet fan, it is a narrative that I greatly appreciated and I would imagine that’s exactly how Segel felt as he wrote it. I would love for the Muppets to get back together and become relevant again and that’s an overriding theme throughout the movie. Segel and director Jason Bobin know that this is somewhat of a last chance for the Muppets as a whole; if this movie succeeds, we’ll soon be talking about sequels and a rejuvenation of the Muppet brand; if it fails, Kermit and the gang will be reduced to nothing more than a fond memory that may never again capture the imagination of a generation. This leads to a sort of self-awareness, making The Muppets almost a movie within a movie and that element is one that brought me absolute joy and leads to a number of hilarious moments that had me and the entire audience cackling.
In addition, there’s an extreme liveliness to The Muppets that I would say bests anything done in the previous Muppet films. As Kermit gets the group back together, we get to see the Muppets at their worst: Fozzy is playing in a cover band (called The Moopets) in Reno, Gonzo has put away the childishness of youth and become a toilet businessman, and Animal is no longer allowed to drum because it triggers his rage. It’s cool to see the Muppets in a different setting than we’re used to and it makes their final production all the more special. And speaking of the music, each and every number, from the delightful “Man or Muppet” to the shocking-but-hilarious rap song to the inevitable but no less satisfying singing of “The Rainbow Connection”, are all exquisite. Bret McKenzie (from Flight of the Conchords) did a masterful job of constructing smart, entertaining songs that both progress the film and stand alone as fun and addicting tunes that will almost certainly pop up on my iPod from time to time.
The finished product plays as a Pixar-like version of the Muppets with a little bit of Flight of the Conchords mixed in for good measure (this ingredient should come as no surprise since both Bobin and McKenzie made their names through that show). The Muppets is riotous, uproarious fun and thoroughly refreshing and balances the perfect amount of heart and comedy. It is, in many ways, a passion project and that excitement oozes through in every wonderfully constructed scene. It stands as my favorite film of the year thus far and holds up against any non-animated family film of the last decade (or more).