Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Muppets (2011) – Review

Review: The Muppets is funny, warm and a good welcome back to a lot of our childhood friends. The film takes place long after the Muppets’ fame peaked, finding them spread across the country and their studio in shambles. Lifelong fans Gary, Mary and Walter discover an evil plot by businessman Tex Richman to destroy the Muppet Studio for good, and so they set out to reunite the Muppets and save the studio. The creative team of director James Bobin and writers Jason Segel (who also stars) and Nicholas Stoller are clearly huge fans of the Muppets and their love of the characters and material is evident in the film (as it is very referential and nostalgic to both the past Muppet movies and television show), but they are not afraid to bring their own jokes and style as well. It is probably best classified as a family film as the jokes hit a broad spectrum but are all safe and geared towards a family audience (much like all the other Muppets films/TV) – but it has the special property of inspiring joy and even wonder in its adult audience members (be it the nostalgia or the characters/story) eliciting a positive emotional response for all its viewers. It is hard not to enjoy the film – from the fantastic musical numbers (which are probably the highlight of the film) to the fun celebrity cameos. However, the stars of the film are the Muppets themselves (especially Kermit). Yet, this is where a structural issue arises. There are almost too many principle characters (Gary, Walter, Mary, Kermit, et al.), and thus Bobin has to switch narrative tracks multiple times to try to flesh out each character and their story (journey). He is not quite able to do this seamlessly, leading to the film dragging a little in the middle and some characters being marginalized (particularly and sadly Mary). We care about all the characters, but the narrative stream of each character is continuously interrupted. Bobin gets the tone, look and feel completely right (and the jokes – The Moopets, all the stuff with Jack Black in the theatre, breaking the fourth wall, human Walter/Muppet Gary, Kermit dissing Rico Rodriguez and many more). The pacing, however, is not quite as fluid as it needed to be for this to be a great film. A lot is great and really works about The Muppets, ultimately making it a good film, but pacing and structural problems hold it back. That said, young kids and fans will probably love it even so.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: James Bobin makes his feature debut with The Muppets and it is clear that he was the right person to take on the characters, working with Stroller and Segel. I am interested to see what he does next (as right now I imagine him making films similar to Michel Gondry). The soundtrack is fantastic (and the highlight for me) with both new songs written by Segel and Bret McKenzie (chief among them Man or Muppet and Life’s a Happy Song) and classics from the Muppet canon. Christophe Beck’s score is fitting and works well in the background, but is completely overshadowed by the songs. Don Burgess’s cinematography is very colorful and bright, and production designer Steve Saklad’s work is good as well particularly his sets for The Muppet Studio and Kermit’s House. The Muppet voice actors are all wonderful, the celebrity cameos are all fun and the cast is good. Peter Linz (the voice of Walter) and Steve Whitmire (the voice of Kermit and a few others) standout among the Muppet voice actors. Rashida Jones is good in her small supporting role. Chris Cooper is a little uneven as the film’s villain, but is good when it counts in the end. Amy Adams is very underutilized but wonderful (as usual) when she has her moments. Jason Segel is good playing a role he dreamed about his whole life – you can see he loves every minute of it.

Summary & score: The Muppets is a fun and very enjoyable family film, and certainly on par with the other Muppet movies. 7/10

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