As far as Muppet movies are concerned, our foamy friends have travelled around quite a bit, both through time and space. Since breaking onto the big screen in 1979 with The Muppet Movie, they went to Manhattan in 1984, back to Victorian times in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), sailed the high seas in Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and went high above the earth in Muppets from Space (1999). Commercial success has been hard to come by so, after a break of twelve years, has the franchise finally been revitalised?
Walter (voice by Peter Linz), a Muppet, lives with his human brother Gary (Segel) in Smalltown. They both became huge fans of The Muppet Show and while Gary grows from a child into a man, Walter stays exactly the same. After ten years dating his girlfriend Mary (Adams), Gary decides to take Mary to Los Angeles to celebrate their anniversary but he also invites Walter along so he can tour the Muppets’ former studio – Mary feels alienated by Gary’s insistence on putting Walter before her. When they reach their destination, Gary, Mary and Walter take a tour of the studio but while there, Walter sneaks into one of the offices and overhears Statler and Waldorf agreeing to sell the plot to Tex Richman (Cooper), a greedy oil magnate, who wants to destroy the Muppets’ former home and drill for the proverbial ‘black gold’ underneath. Walter also learns that $10 million would save the theatre from Richman’s clutches – he tells Gary and Mary and they go to find Kermit the Frog’s mansion.
The intrepid three tell Kermit about Tex’s plans and he decides to rally the troops and get the old gang back together, organising a telethon to raise the money. Firstly, they find Fozzie Bear who is working in Reno with tribute act, The Moopets. Next is Gonzo, who is now a plumbing magnate and then Animal, who is taking anger management sessions with Jack Black. To save time finding everyone else, the primary Muppets are re-united using a montage, with Rowlf the Dog and Miss Piggy the last to be found – the latter of whom is working as Vogue Paris’ “plus-sized” fashion editor. The Muppets pitch their idea for a new TV show to various networks but are turned down each time until they go to CDE’s executive Veronica (Rashida Jones), who initially rejects them for being passé, but when popular programme Punch Teacher is forcibly cancelled because of complaints, she gives them the green light. Now, with the gang ready to thrust themselves back into the limelight, they must hope the public respond and help them save the studio once and for all.
The Muppets is undeniably fun and there is a nostalgic mood that engulfs the film, especially when those familiar, (mostly) furry faces begin to assemble. Not only do we get to see our old favourite Muppets playing themselves for a change – past films have seen them mainly taking on different personas – we also see a modern take on Jim Henson’s creations, which should hopefully win them a new generation of fans. Screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller have fashioned a plot that never lets up and manages to incorporate some witty one-liners as Kermit, Gary, Mary and Walter visit each of the original gang to persuade them to come out of retirement. There’s a strong emphasis on entertaining adult audiences with a few ‘knowing’ references mixed in with the real-life concerns, but children can just sit back and enjoy the manic Muppets themselves and the catchy musical numbers which will stay in your head for a while afterwards.
With the Muppets providing a ready-made cast, it is down to the humans to ensure that there is a good support and a dazzling array of cameos. Segel’s Gary, Adams’ Mary and Linz’s Walter are a great trio to follow and are very likeable. Jason Segel and Walter form a superb double-act and although Amy Adams is rather sidelined for most of the film, she gets into the spirit of the proceedings when she gets the opportunity with a song and dance. Jack Black is the star of the show, with perhaps his best role (as himself) since The School of Rock (2003) – having him as Animal’s anger management sponsor and then being forced to participate in the telethon whilst tied to a chair is pure genius. Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Emily Blunt (as Miss Piggy’s secretary in a nod to her role in The Devil Wears Prada) Whoopi Goldberg and Dave Grohl are just a few of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances.
If there’s one major criticism of The Muppets, it’s the sudden lapses into cheesy High School Musical territory, particularly with the final number Life’s a Happy Song which is a touch nauseating and Chris Cooper’s rendition of Let’s Talk About Me which is frankly cringeworthy. These quibbles aside though, this is a welcome entry in the Muppets’ cannon that should breathe new life into a previously faltering franchise.