Who doesn’t love The Muppets?
Birds love them. Bees love them. Even monkeys stuck in trees love them. That’s been the case since the 1970s when Jim Henson first stuck his hand into a green sock and pulled out a cultural icon (I know, he’s not really a green sock.)
Why you would have to be a heartless Texas oilman played by Chris Cooper (with his own personal rap!) to want to quash the long-gestating big-screen return of the most famous pieces of felt in the world (their last outing was 1999’s Muppets in Space). But it’s good that someone hates them, because The Muppets needed a plot.
Long garboed-up at his estate, Kermit the Frog must reunite the original Muppet cast for a telethon to save the old Muppets Theater from the oil derrick. With the help of human friends he finds Gonzo as a plumbing business magnate, tracks down Fozzie Bear at a seedy Reno nightspot, and springs Animal the drummer from anger management classes with Jack Black. Then there’s corralling Ms. Piggy, now running a Parisian fashion magazine after hiring Emily Blunt away from Meryl Streep!
The genius of the muppets is the way they talk to all members of the audience. They are smart for the adults and silly for the children. Miss Piggy does her karate chops. Hi-ya! You also get the smart satire, such as goofing on all the bands who tour without their original members. Fozzie Bear is stuck playing in such a band, which looks like it has been stocked with parolees from Muppet Prison.
The movie allows co-writer/human star Jason Segel to fulfill the lifelong dream of his character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, to make a puppet musical (with songwriting help from Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords). The singalongs are joyous, especially the campy “Life’s a Happy Song” number early in the film, and there’s something furtively sexy about Amy Adams performing “Me Party” (but don’t worry, parents–no need to cover your child’s eyes or anything.) The Muppets understands a lesson that I wish modern musicals would learn: that the best musical numbers have songs that are singable for the audience, rather than professionally polished and impressive. Sorry Dreamgirls fans, the most immortal movie musical numbers are the ones that everybody can sing.
As film critic you learn to get a sense of the target demographic. But what happens when you are the target demographic? You sit back, lose all critical perspective, and enjoy the show–which was my experience with The Muppets, a film in which I was having as much fun as Segel and Adams seemed to do on-screen.