The Muppets

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"I like it better when the Muppets don't sing "

Feb 17th, 2012

I've been looking forward to this movie for quite some time and the wait was made all the worse knowing the film had already been released in America way back in November (to rave reviews I might add). I myself am a lifelong Muppet fan and before setting off to the cinema in my animal t-shirt I sat down to watch my two favourite Muppet features The Muppet Movie and The Muppets take Manhattan. That's why I can't tell you how disappointed I was with The Muppets which is quite simply awful.

As I write this review I know that I simply could come off as the characters Waldalf and Statler, a grumpy old git who just loves to complain but I must attest that I love most everything the Muppets have appeared in (aside from the Muppets of oz). That said I cannot in good conscience pretend to like a movie just because I fear the reaction I may get from not enjoying it (I am still a huge Muppet fan). I am well aware that I'm seem to be in the minority regarding this film so please take this into account when reading this review.

Story wise the set up couldn't be more appropriate given the current state of the Muppets worldwide presence and recent appearances since their merger with the Disney Company. It has been 12 years since the Muppets last had a feature in the cinemas (Muppets from Space) and while they have continued on with various TV movies (of questionable quality) with the coming of CGI domination in family films the characters appeared to have become irrelevant and outdated, Rather than ignore this it becomes the main driving force of the plot.

Taking a bold move the film decides to shift the focus onto a new Muppet named Walter and his brother Gary (Jason Segel). I don't know why but you don't really question this bizarre family trait and it's more than acceptable given a realm where Muppets exist. Walter has had a hard time adjusting to life being a clear outcast and finds solace in watching the Muppet show and idolising Kermit the frog. Forward to present day and the Muppets have disbanded with their former studio falling into disrepair. While visiting the old studio Walter discovers a nefarious plot to destroy the studio and sets out to reunite the Muppets and reclaim their former fame and glory.

The story is expertly crafted and manages to be respectful to older fans while at the same time introducing a new audience to each of the individual personalities of the old madcap crew. Jason Segel who also scripted the story is clearly himself a huge fan and respectful to all that has passed before. That said even with the best of intentions I feel the film suffers (at least in my eyes) due to the execution.

The Muppets that appear are spot on even with the changing of the original voice actors (This is the first film to not feature Frank Oz as Miss Piggy) but they are not the factor that hurt the film. The human quota throughout are cringe worthy and detract from the Muppets as they take up quite a bit of screen time. Jason Segel spends the entire movie mugging at the camera and performing ill timed musical numbers. It's clear that he is having a great time but his performance really belongs in a more preschool feature (Barney the Dinosaur perhaps) ,he delivers his lines in that unintentional condescending tone that kids television presenter's use.

Amy Addams fares better but she really is channelling her performance from Enchanted but like Segel I never feel she is a real world human being (something I got from all other actors in previous Muppet outings).

Chris Cooper on the other hand pulls off an expertly OTT villain role and actually manages to upstage many of the Muppets he has been paired up with (not the cream of the Muppet crop or should I say Moopits). The only failing in his character comes from a speedy conclusion to his story arc and an awful rap number that appears out of nowhere. Leading me into the musical failings of the movie.

The Muppets have always flirted with musical numbers within their feature films but I would hardly refer to their films as musicals and more as films that have songs in them. The new movie bucks that idea and seems to throw in songs whenever it gets the chance it's hard to get more than two scenes before a fully choreographed sequence kicks in. A lot of the numbers are just reprises of songs from previous films which are fine considering this film is about a Muppet reunion. Unfortunately the newer numbers really are quite jarringly awful and don't quite fit with the older material and more often than not appear for no good reason. It also doesn't help that the new songs are usually performed by the human actors sans Muppet accompaniment, pointless in a film of this nature. I can't be completely sour on all the songs as there is a fantastic song featuring Kermit reminiscing on the past which really hammers home that only the Muppets should be singing.

Along with the sing-along elements we also are treated to some odd incidental music throughout which also manages to clash with the rest of the musical ques. With a couple of montage sequences we get some blaring 80's rock numbers (such as we built this city on rock and roll) and it feels more of a throwback to 80's cinema and Segels musical preferences than an actual Muppet movie soundtrack.

The celebrity cameos are rather bizarre and seem to be thrown in just because they are an expected staple of a Muppet movie most fall flat due to a couple of reasons. First are the people chosen to appear. Instead of picking actors that are well known to audiences it appears that Mr. Segel has chosen only his celebrity mates and a couple of flavours of the month. Sarah Silverman, Jim from the American Office and Selena Gomez only appeal to a select few and probably won't even register to the average/casual movie goer (especially here in Britain). The other problem is the poor roles they are shoehorned into, while I don't expect every celebrity to have a meaty part (it is a cameo after all) they should be a little more inspired than girl who takes dinner reservations, person on phone, man in background. In all these scenes even the dialogue is drab and really should have been reserved for any number of actors who perform extra work. Jack Black and Zack Galifikanakis are the only ones that feel properly merged into the film.

The Muppets have always flirted with breaking the fourth wall with references to reading scripts and dialogue referring to boring the audience though these were a handful of moments over a 40 year period. The new Muppet film uses this technique in nearly every scene by playing with the conventions and techniques used in film making. I assume this is the intended humour for the adult audience but it becomes ridiculously silly after a while as you anticipate what new twist they are going to through at you next. I know there's a lot of people out there who are going to love these moments (one rainy scene turns out to be a water hose against a window) but it was constantly removing me from the film universe which already requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief.

The film moves at a brisk pace and while the above was more than a little irritating I could appreciate the direction the story was moving in. I loved the through backs to the original Muppet movie as we see where all the Muppets are following their disbanding (My highlight of the film involved Ralph and his flashback). It still amazes me at how much emotion fuzzy puppets can generate and it's rather bittersweet watching them interact with each other after so many years. It's just a shame how the final act is handled.

The final section of the film is really just a recreation of the original Muppet show. While it's well put together emulating the original style while throwing in modern twists it takes up so much screen time that the concluding moments of the film feel rather rushed and detached from the first two thirds. In fact a rather rushed epilogue is thrown into the credits to wrap up a couple of loose ends that were glossed over in the finale.

For me at least The Muppets was an absolute disappointment. While I went in hoping to be entertained I never expected too much considering this is only a Muppet movie after all. I have a feeling that most kids that watch this are going to love it but let's be honest kids love to watch crap. As the years pass only certain family films hold up on repeat viewing especially as you get older, I doubt any adults will be raving about this film like many do the original Muppet movie.

-Just an added extra The Muppets features a fantastic short prior to the film starring the Toy Story characters. While I appreciate Disney adding these toons to their films I don't think it served the Muppets well. As they are using old puppetry this dated look feels all the more so following a top notch CGI toon.

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Movie Details

Movie Poster Here
Director: James Bobin
Screenplay: Jason Segel
Nicholas Stoller
Released: 2011 (USA)
Rating: U
Starring: Jason Segel
Amy Adams
Chris Cooper