There’s something curious about relaunching a famous brand that has gotten dusty. Sometimes reboots are done out of love, but more often than not it’s just a cashgrab. But don’t worry about 2011′s The Muppets, it was made by the right people for the right reasons. There’s no denying that The Muppets are a beloved group of performers, but between lesser films and TV movies, the gang has fallen from the spotlight – something that was inevitable after the passing of creator Jim Henson. Enter Jason Segel, who obviously helped will the production into existence, and now the muppets are back and as good as they once were. And if the movie mostly serves to push nostalgia buttons, it pushes them well.

The Players:

The Plot:

Walter is an 18 inch Muppet living in Smalltown, USA, who’s always been in love with The Muppets and The Muppet Show. His brother Gary (Segel) also loves the Muppets – about as much as he loves his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), who he’s been dating for ten years. For their anniversary Gary, Mary and Walter head to Los Angeles, where they discover Tex Richman (Cooper) is planning on taking over the dilapidated Muppet Studios to drill for oil. The only way to save the studio is get the gang back together, put them on television, and make ten million dollars. But Kermit has become a recluse and they haven’t performed together for a very long time. Can they do it?

The Good:

  • They’re Back: Though obviously the voices are not Jim Henson’s and Frank Oz’s, the work by James Bobin, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller captures the essence of these characters. There was a worry that Segel and company might take the characters too dark or dirty, but there’s a childlike innocence to everything, and also the proper amount of insouciance. The players are mostly aware that they’re in a film, and make note of it from time to time – much as they did in the original Muppet movies. And all of the lead Muppets get a moment or two of greatness – though if you’re a fan of a minor character, you may be disappointed with some screen time (Gonzo seems short changed). This is a story about Kermit the Frog, and everyone else is there for support. And that’s fine.
  • The Music: Working with Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, the new music has the flavor of the classic Paul Williams songs (some of which show in the film), but an edge of silliness. “Life’s a Happy Song” and “Man or Muppet” are earworms, almost deadly in how catchy and engaging they are. Early on there’s a big musical number, and it’s almost disappointing the rest of the film isn’t a full-blown musical. Perhaps it’s because Muppets can’t dance that well.
  • Chris Cooper: The villain really defines the piece. You get to watch a performer have fun and play against his serious image, while also enjoying every moment he’s on screen, even when he’s being mean to the Muppets. He also gets his own rap number, and has a catch phrase (“Maniacal Laugh”)

The Bad:

  • The Ending: The movie sort of stops. Perhaps it would take too much screen time and work to wrap everything up in a neater fashion, but it feels like the end was just going on too long, and so cuts were made.
  • The Message: Look, I’m happy the Muppets are back, and I really enjoyed the movie, but I wish the movie told its own story instead of being about nostalgia. Though you cold argue that the film is about showing that The Muppets and their sensibility are still meaningful in this “cynical” day and age, it’s a film that keeps reminding you how much you love its characters. It’s done so well it’s never a problem, but it’s still annoying that so many movies now are more about reminding what you loved about something instead of being something that can be loved. This is compounded by the fact that The Muppets have to raise ten million dollars. I think this would have been better if the money number were more absurd, because the idea of famous people doing a telethon to raise money for themselves is kind of weird. In that way the film works in spite of its narrative. Similar complaints could be made about the relationship of the humans, which goes on a plot course that is evident from their first scene together. But the film is silly enough to never take it all that seriously.

Overall:

The Muppets are a very powerful franchise in that if you’ve grown up in the last forty years – between Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and the Muppet movies – they’ve been a part of your life. And James Bobin’s The Muppets trades on that nostalgia beautifully for an emotional and funny love letter to those characters that’s respectful but not mummified. It manages to be one of the better films of the year.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

The Muppets opens November 23.

Stills:

Trailer: