The Muppets’s biggest fan Walter is taken on a tour of The Muppets Studio by his brother Gary (Jason Segel). While there, Walter overhears a diabolical plot by evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to tear down the studio to drill for oil. It is up to Walter, Gary and Gary’s fiancée Mary (Amy Adams) to get the Muppets back together and put on one last show to raise money to save the studio.
It has been 12 years since The Muppets last graced our screens in Muppets in Space, and we have missed them. There was a mixed reaction from fans when it was announced that Jason Segel was to write the reboot of the franchise, but the good news is that he has lived up to the spirit of the TV show and the movies that have gone before.
The story is pretty formulaic, there have been many moves where the good guys have to outwit the bad guy and save something precious to them, but this works for the movie. A complicated story would have taken away from the relationships between the characters, and the great song and dance numbers. It is never explained why the Muppets have gone their separate ways, but it is clear that each of the characters are missing their glory days. Fozzie Bear is performing in a Muppets tribute show in Reno, Gonzo is a plumbing magnate and Miss Piggy is the Plus Size Editor of French Vogue, but they are easily convinced – for the most part – to perform together again.
Jason Segel allowed the Muppets to take centre stage for the movie, his character Gary has a storyline involving his fiancée Mary, but the focus of the film is the Muppet Telethon and beating the bad guy. Segel has written a script that is a combination of fiction and characters poking fun at the fact that they are in a movie, which stays true to the spirit of the Muppets. The gags are there, the songs are there, and so are the life lessons; we all need someone to believe in us, friendship is important and laughter is the third greatest give we can give.
The songs are sweet and funny – as we have come to expect from Segel’s past work – and they allow the characters to develop or sing about how they are feeling; which is what we would expect from a musical number. They also reinforce the action, and lead to big set pieces with people and Muppets dancing through the streets of Hollywood. Some of the songs may be slightly less than necessary but this is not enough to detract from the film as a whole. The montages set to music also work well, especially since this is one of the plot devices that appears to make the characters remember that they are in a movie.
The Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin has held on to the innocent air that suffused The Conchords show and carried it on through this movie. This air suits the tone of The Muppets incredibly well; the original show was charming and funny, and this is exactly what the movie is. The balance between the villain and the good guys is enough motivation for the characters to try and save the theatre, but not enough to scare the younger members of the audience.
The Muppets themselves are realised in the same way as they always were, the movie has not turned to CGI to try and make the Muppets themselves more ‘realistic’ and this was the right choice. The lo-fi style of the TV show was what endeared it to the audience, and to change this would have removed a lot of the charm of the original series. The cameos from a long line of celebrities also reinforce this. In this movie we get the fantastic format of the original series with the fundraising show, as well as an over arching narrative which leads to some brilliant moments… Look out for Jim Parsons playing the piano.
The Muppets is exactly what fans of the show would hope for; it is sweet and funny and has songs – both new and old – and a heartfelt message. The movie is infused with nostalgia for the older members of the audience; as soon as the theme song begins to play, it is hard to ignore the memories of sitting watching The Muppet Show as a child. That said, the movie has plenty for the younger viewer as well including brilliantly silly visual gags and plenty of slapstick humour. There are moments when the pace is slowed down to allow for musical numbers and these are joyous and almost magical. The Muppets is charming and a whole lot of fun; it is the big spectacle of a comeback that The Muppets deserved and it is a delightful way for the characters we love to return to our screens.