Friday, February 3, 2012

The Muppets movie review
After 12 years, the Muppets are finally back in theatres. Was it worth the wait or are we better off just remembering the Muppets the way they were?

"The Muppets? Great show back then. What? They still excist?" While it's true that The Muppet Show and subsequent movies were big hits even the biggest Muppet fan can't deny that the Muppets started to fade away from the public eye since Jim Henson's death. Their last theatrical movie, Muppets in Space was a box office disappointment and their last telefilm Muppets' Wizard of Oz was even worse recieved. This year however, (or last year if live in the United States) Disney is poised to bring the felt faced creatures back into the spotlight with a new movie simply called The Muppets. With a title like that you might think the movie's a reboot of the franchise but on the contrary; the movie is a sequel of some sorts to all previous Muppet productions. However, Disney is aware of the fact that a whole generarion grew up with the Muppets and there's a whole new generation who barely even heard of the franchise. They set out to make a movie that's both for the older fans and the fans-to-be but did Disney succeed?

Walter and Gary
In this movie we meet the newest Muppet, Walter. Walter is the world's biggest Muppet fan and together with his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) travel to the Muppet Studios to finally see where all the magic happened. The studio hasn't been used in years however and looks like a wreck. It gets worse when Walter sneaks into Kermit's old office and accidentally overhears Waldorf and Statler talking to the rich oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Richman plans to level the Muppet Studios in order to drill for oil. The only way he can be stopped is by raising ten million dollars in order to repurchase the studios. Walter, Gary and Mary look for Kermit and tell him the bad news. Our froggy hero decides to try and raise the money with a big Muppet Telethon but the problem is he hasn't seen the gang in a long time so he, along with his new friends, try to bring the Muppets back together and raise the money needed.

Judging by this summary you might mistake the story for generic, boring and predictable but the story is actually pretty smart written with the underlying question if the Muppets are still relevant in 2012 woven in through the film. The movie acknowledges the slump the franchise has been in head on and uses this to its advantage. The Muppets  tries to prove that there is room for the clean, crazy humor that the brand is known for. This time they don't try to stay hip by jumping on a currently coolbandwagon o like they did in Muppets' Wizard of Oz. They simply do what they do best; making us laugh in a same way they did when we first met them in the seventies.

It's great to see the cast finally Together Again.
One of the reasons the franchise has been in a slump is the deaths of prominent Muppeteers like Jim Henson and Richard Hunt as well as the semi-retirement of Muppeteers like Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson. Subsequent productions ommitted a lot of their Muppets or relegated them to smaller roles and cameos.
These Muppet productions thus felt a little incomplete since the strength of the franchise lies in the big cast of characters and when certain characters that were popular on the Muppet Show simply don't appear or only have cameo roles it shows. 
The Muppets is a comeback of sorts for a lot of characters that were notably missed through the years like Dr. Teeth, Rowlf and Scooter and a slew of lesser known characters like Link Hogthrob and Wayne & Wanda. The cast of the Muppets is finally complete again and it's firing on all cylinders. It just wouldn't feel like a proper Muppet Telethon without Scooter warning acts that there are "15 seconds to curtain" or Rowlf playing the piano. The Muppeteers taking over these roles are doing a great job.

The stronger cast of Muppets also eliminates the need for a big human lead like earlier movies attempted. Jason Segal and Amy Adams perfectly supplement the movie without taking up too much screen time. They feel completely natural in the Muppet world and it shows they had a great time making the movie.

With the lead parts hanging on the shoulders of the Muppets it's  pretty hard to tell an convincing story that also appeals to mature fans.  It does work though and the reason the Muppet characters work on screen is because they're three dimensional, they're like us. They're not perfect. They laugh, get angry but also get hurt . Kermit hasn't seen his friends and Piggy in a long time and when he's singing about it and is hurting inside,we're hurting inside because even though they're puppets they experience the same feelings we've experienced. Don't get me wrong, the Muppets is far from a somber movie but it does have some truly touching moments and that makes the movie that much stronger. For a movie about felt covered lifestock to touch people it has to be truly special. And it is.

Link AND Rowlf? In 2012? Singing Nirvana?
Muppet movies have always been accompanied by great music and The Muppets proudly continues this tradition. The original songs, written by Bret McKenzie of Flights of the Concords fame are great and perfectly fit the feeling of the movie. Life's a Happy Song is an upbeat song, reflecting the Muppets positive outlook on life while Pictures in my Head is an poignant song, describing Kermits feelings on the split up of the Muppets. Accompanying Bret's songs are some song parodies like an amazing cover of Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit by Rowlf, Sam the Eagle, Beaker and Link Hogtrob in a Barbershop quartet style  Cleverly, they let Beaker sing (or rather, 'meep') the more profane parts of the lyrics, effectively eliminating those parts. Several Muppet classics are reprised with this movie containing both a (intentionally) horrible and a truly fantastic version of The Rainbow Connection. A review of the offical soundtrack will be up very soon, with a more in depth look at the songs.

The Muppets is fantastic return to form for the Muppets but is there really nothing wrong with it? Well, a strange choice is the cutting of a part of Tex Richman's rap. The soundtrack version contains an operatic part which explains why Richman hates the Muppets. The movie cut the rap short, omitting this part and making his 'maniacal laugh' comments a bit more random. It works as random humour but it's strange that they cut it just to shave of a minute of the movie. The entire song will be an extra on the Blu-ray release. 

Tex Richman's rap skills are better than you might expect.
Too bad they're cut short.
If they cut that bit to save time, they should have cut the Me party song. It is a nice song but doesn't really add anything to the movie. I'm also puzzled to see why they made this song a cutaway duet between Mary and Miss Piggy.  Adding another character to the song was unneccesary and made it feel like a filler song, added just so that Amy Adams and Piggy could sing a duet. 
A general complaint about Muppet movies is that Muppet X's part is too small with Muppet Y hogging to much of the spotlight. This was especially the case with the post-Henson movies and isn't really resolvable with such a big cast. If you say, give Scooter more screentime Sam the Eagle-fans would complain about Scooter hogging up valuable screen time and vice versa. I would have liked to see more of Gonzo but as it is, screentime is pretty evenly divided.

Overall The Muppets is a great movie and even better if you're a Muppet fan. The Muppets are back in full force and haven't been this funny in years. The movie is funny, poignant, exciting and you're guaranteed to leave the theatre without a big smile and humming the catchy Life's a Happy Song.

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