Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets

It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights. It's been a long time since the The Muppets took Manhattan, had a great caper, or set their sites on an original movie. Sure there was that attempt to give Gonzo his own film, and the series of movies adapted from literature to star The Muppets over the years, but for the first time in a long time, with no small part to Jason Segel, The Muppets are back.

The story begins with brothers Walter (Peter Linz) and Gary (Segel) traveling to Los Angeles with Gary's longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). Although the trip was initially set as an anniversary getaway for the lovers, Gary brings Walter along to let him realize one of his dreams by visiting Muppet Studios.

Walter is crushed to find the studio in disrepair and horrified to learn that an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is set to take ownership of the property and destroy it. The Muppets have only one chance, the contract leaves a clause that they can buy back the studio before the deadline if they can raise $10,000,000.

Walter, Gary, and Mary seek out Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) and convince him to reunite his old friends for one big performance to raise the money to save Muppet Studios. The film takes us on a road trip to reunite the cast members including Fozzie (Eric Jacobson), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), Rowlf (Bill Barretta), Scooter (David Rudman), Animal (Jacobson), Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mahem, Beaker (Whitmire), Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (Goelz), and all the rest.

Only one member of the old gang turns them down, but her refusal has more to do with hurt feelings than not wanting to help old friends. Before long, however, Miss Piggy (Jacobson) will join the rest for The Muppet Telethon.

What's standing in the way of their success, besides the villain who is determined to see them fail, is the fact that the Muppets are no longer famous. As countless network executives inform them, people have forgotten who they are. Without realizing it, the world has passed them by. But that's not going to stop the plucky gang of frogs, pigs, bears, and whatevers to give it the old Muppet try and prove there is still a place for The Muppets.

They have the stage and a timeslot (thanks to the necessary yanking of the latest reality-TV show off the air). Now if they can just find a celebrity host (and raise a mere $10,000,000 in a single night) they can save the studio.

Aside from Cooper as the film's villain and Rashida Jones as the television network executive, the film includes several celebrity cameos including Jack Black as the telethon's celebrity host and anger management sponsor for Animal. And Zach Galifianakis, Alan Arkin, Jim Parsons, Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Schaal, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, David Grohl, Judd Hirsch, Neil Patrick Harris, and Mickey Rooney are just some of the faces you should recognize.

Segel has a love for the characters that's obvious in every frame of the film. The Muppets wears its heart on its sleeve. For the first time in almost three decades we get the kind of Muppet movie we've been waiting for.

The film opens, as do all great Muppet flicks, with a big opening number. From there things kick into high gear as the gang is put back together cleverly by montage and map. There's only one sequences of the film that slows down to focus on the relationship of Gary and Mary, but then the movie kicks things back into high gear for a theatrical version of The Muppet Show in the film's final act.

More than once my eyes teared up a little seeing the characters from my childhood so vibrantly returned to the big screen. We get singing, dancing, explosions, hijinks, sarcastic commentary from Statler and Waldorf (Whitmire, Goelz), an all chicken number, and everything in-between. There are several nods to classic Muppet moments including a big screen version of The Muppet Show opening and "Rainbow Connection."

The Muppets is everything I wanted it to be an more. It might not quite reach the heights of The Muppet Movie but it's a wonderful relaunching of the franchise that stays true to the characters, emotion, and dreams of Jim Henson. It's the family movie of the year.

One final note, the theatrical release of the film includes a Toy Story short "Small Fry" (which includes one of the most awesome cameos imaginable) and several of the film's celebrities sticking around to do "Mahna Mahna" during the credits. So make sure you show up early and stay late to enjoy all the fun!

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