Nonstop Movies: ‘The Muppets’

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, the Muppets were a huge part of my childhood. “The Muppet Show” was like a kiddy version of “Saturday Night Live,” a variety show with comedy and celebrity guests. The Muppets then went on to star in feature films starting with “The Muppet Movie” in 1979 and ending with “Muppets from Space” in 1999. Outside a few pop-up appearances, it’s been over a decade since the Muppets have been a significant contributor to pop culture. So I was very excited to hear about “The Muppets,” a new feature film written and produced by Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”). I couldn’t wait to see the characters on the big screen, brought back by someone who’s professed his love for the characters and vowed to be faithful to them.

In the film, Gary (Jason Segel) and his brother Walter are huge fans of the Muppets and tour the Muppet Studio with Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams). But while there, they learn that an evil businessman named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to demolish the theater and drill for the oil beneath it if the Muppets don’t come up with $10 million to save it. Unfortunately, as one character states, “The Muppets just aren’t famous anymore,” and they’ve gone their separate ways. Miss Piggy lives as a fashion designer in Paris. Fozzie headlines a cover band in a seedy casino in Reno. Gonzo owns a plumbing fixture company. Animal is in an anger management clinic. So it’s now up to Kermit to reunite the gang and organize a telethon to raise the money.

Segel and director James Bobin do a terrific job of reintroducing the Muppets to the public and staying faithful to the characters. The Muppets were popular because they were pure, funny and entertaining, and Segel and Bobin rightfully avoid any modernization of their personalities, leaving them free of the irony and cynicism so prominent in humor nowadays. The new songs in the film may be considered cheesy and old fashioned, but they suit the Muppets. I enjoyed the musical numbers so much that I wished that I could be in the next Muppets movie, dancing, singing and smiling along with the gang. And only the Muppets could take controversial songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Cee Lo Green’s “F— You.” and turn them into cheerful sing-a-longs. The script isn’t perfect and is very similar to “The Muppet Movie” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” but that’s not a bad thing, since those two are my favorites of the franchise. I am a sucker for films about underdogs who simply want to put on a show and entertain people.

As is the tradition with the Muppets universe, there are also many celebrity cameos, with celebrities not playing themselves, but more entertaining characters. The cameo in the musical number “Man or Muppet” is an especially hilarious one.

It’s a shame, however, that Frank Oz chose not to be in the film. The original voice of Miss Piggy, Fozzie and a few other Muppets opted out, because they didn’t like parts of the script. Eric Jacobson does an admirable job filling in for Oz, but longtime fans will notice the slight differences in the character voices.

It’s hard to say if “The Muppets” will bring the once popular characters back to the forefront, but for nostalgic fans like me who grew up watching them, it’s like visiting with an old friend, where you’re comfortable, can have fun and appreciate that they haven’t changed a bit.

“The Muppets,” 98 minutes, is Rated PG and opens in theaters today.