Here’s something you may not know about me: I’ve never seen an episode of The Muppet Show. I haven’t watched any of the six spin-off movies that followed the show either. Come to think of it, my only exposure to Jim Henson’s iconic creations have been via Sesame Street which I apparently used to watch religiously as a kid – and naturally, through pop culture. Even then, prior to The Muppets, Kermit and Miss Piggy were the only characters I could have named out of a lineup. It’s not that I’ve been living under a rock; I just lived halfway across the world where The Muppet Show never aired. That being said, The Muppets isn’t like Harry Potter where your ignorance of events in previous films amputates your comprehension of what’s happening. I for one, a Muppet virgin, was utterly charmed by this delightful film. Wait, did I just refer to myself as a Muppet virgin? Good Lord!
Digressions aside, it’s been 12 years since the last Muppets movie Muppets in Space hit cinemas. That film didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, picking up only $16 million, which in Hollywood terms is akin to the Black Death! It was a tough break but from those ashes sparked the idea for this new film which presents the Muppets as a group of forgotten entertainers trying to make a comeback amid a new century of flashier and more sophisticated family affairs. What’s so wonderful about this concept, which was conceived Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, both die-hard fans, is that it reminds older fans about everything that was so great about the Muppets by re-visiting classic moments from the TV show including a few classic tunes (“Mah Nà Mah Nà”) while simultaneously introducing Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Animal and Fozzie Bear to a new generation of moviegoers, this one included. And the best thing about it all is that Segal and Stoller, along with director James Bobin, pull it off without any rebooting, rehashing, reinventing shenanigans.
The film, written by Segal and Stoller, whose inventive screenplay utilizes plenty of quirks such as meta references, breaking the fourth wall and off-the-wall musical numbers (composed by Bret McKenzie), mostly concerns itself with the attempts of Kermit, and his new friends Gary (Segal), Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and muppet brother Walter, to bring back the gang from the old days and put up a show that’ll help them raise enough money to buy back their Muppet studio from an evil oil baron named Tex Richman (a hilarious Chris Cooper). It’s a task tougher than it sounds as most of the Muppets are reluctant to return – Fozzie performs in a cover band called the Mooppets while Gonzo has become a wealthy toilet titan. Animal has gone into the rehab program to get rid of his drum addiction whereas Miss Piggy reigns supreme as a Miranda Priestly-like magazine diva in Paris.
But this being a Muppet movie, the plot of the film isn’t exactly the focus. The fun is in watching them charm the socks off you – which they manifest through quirky songs, clever gags, elaborate musical numbers, Meta humor, and hilarious bantering between the characters. The meta humor in particular is very cleverly used. After one particularly large explosion, Fozzie bear looks back at his friends and exclaims, “Wow that looked like an expensive explosion! I didn’t know we had that kind of a budget.” In another, a character voices his frustration by explaining to another that he didn’t want to talk about his troubles since he just sang an entire song about it five minutes prior. Even the maniacal laugh of the bad guy is one gigantic in-joke.
Although I read that most songs in the picture were based off existing Muppets classics, the filmmakers also make room for hilarious renditions of contemporary hit songs (A barbershop quartet cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and a chicken rendition of Cee-Lo’s “F*** You” are the highlights) as well as three new tracks composed by McKenzie, best known for his work as part of the duo Flight of the Conchords. Like his work on that band/show, these songs are without doubt some of the wittiest stuff I’ve heard in a musical in ages. The irresistibly cheery and uplifting “Life is a Happy Song,” which bookends the film, will have audience members tapping their feet while the outrageous and gleefully absurd “Man or Muppet” number is bound to bring down the house. Meanwhile, Amy Adams’ “Me Party” is destined to become an anthem for single people. Even Chris Cooper (with his maniacal laughter) gets a hilarious rap number).
The Muppets make a triumphant return to movie theaters after a 12 year absence with a charming, old fashioned musical comedy that’ll warm the hearts of even the most die-hard curmudgeon among us. With a clever script by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller that ponders the Muppet’s relevance in today’s world, witty and elaborate musical numbers by Bret McKenzie, plenty of meta humor, smart banter and a ton of celebrity cameos, this is wholesome family entertainment at its best. See it now!