There’s a delicate line on which the perfect family film needs to walk. The ones that get it just right appeal to children, grown ups and grown up children alike, appealing to different expectations while delivering on the same level of entertainment. This is a difficult like to walk for the best of films, but especially so for The Muppets. It’s been over 15 years since Jim Henson’s indelible creations had any kind of significant impact on popular culture with the Brian Henson directed Muppet Treasure Island, and while that and the preceeding Christmas Carol hold a special place in the hearts of many new adults in 2012 they were never true Muppet films, more an amalgamation of Disney’s marketing driven mid-90′s approach to franchising and literary adaptations. Muppets in Space was an attempt at originality but they just left out the jokes.
So here we are and Jason Segal wants to re-introduce the world to The Muppets, and what a valiant attempt he’s made. In Segal’s (and director James Bobin’s) new Muppets movie Chris Cooper’s EVIL oil baron wants to buy the Muppet Studios and knock them down to make way for an oil reserve and in the process conquering childhood anxieties. To stop him, wannabe Muppet Walter, his human brother Gary (Segal) and Gary’s Girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) have to find Kermit and help him and other other Muppets put on one last show to raise the money to save the studios.
There’s such genuine affection for the characters that it’s easy to overlook any and all flaws the film may have. At it’s core, it’s as close to a true Muppets film as we’re likely to get without an re-animated Jim Henson. Well timed celebrity cameos, catchy songs, a meta-narrative and a dedication to what made these guys loveable in the first place create what’s possibly the best Muppets film since The Muppet Movie in 1977. And while it never reaches suxh dizzying heights it’s not for trying. As previously mentioned, the songs by Bobin’s Flight of the Conchords pal Bret Mckenzie are stonking, full blown musical numbers which haven’t been even close to being seen since Enchanted, and the story is reflective of the film itself. This film needs to be a success to save The Muppets for us, the audience.
For the most part it succeeds, tapping into the nostalgia felt by adult viewers with callbacks to earlier movies and a cheeky mature bent to many of the laughs while grounding it’s more childish whims into a commentary on what’s expected from a kid’s movie (Fart Shoes I’m looking at you…). As it is, Segal’s love may have driven him to try too hard… signs of trimmed storylines and missing scenes are evident throughout and a radically changed ending hints and what could have been left on the cutting room floor and yet for all it’s attempts at abbreviation it still feels too long. It’s overlong & overcut, a result once again of forcing human leads into a Muppet Movie. As game as they are, everytime Segal and Adams dominate the narrative it grinds to a halt, and it’s hard to give a shit if they get engaged or not. It’s almost blasphemous when we are forced to leave a newly re-staged Muppet Show for a sojourn into Romantic Comedy back in Smalltown. Walter works, he’s charming, idealistic and fits in perfectly with the more established Muppets but his face wouldn’t sell tickets to the uninitiated.
But for all it’s flaws the overwhelming sensation on leaving the cinema is that of pure joy. It’s great to have the Muppets back in our lives and if nothing else, perhaps Segal can wave that wand once more and convince Disney to bring them back to our TV Screens on a weekly basis.