There are many similarities between Muppets and talking apes; they both talk, they’re both furry, they’re both intended to be reflections of humanity. The only difference is that the talking apes don’t break out into spontaneous musical numbers, and even that’s been rectified once.
Oh yeah, there’s one other similarity: As I said in my review of “Rise of Planet of the Apes,” I will lie to you about both. Because both talking apes and Muppets are wedged close to my heart. They were installed during childhood, and as such it is impossible for me to be objective about such things.
The new Muppets movie is made for Muppet fans. If you’ve ever teared up during “The Rainbow Connection,” this movie is for you.
Now, I believe it’s pretty good for non-Muppets fans. It’s got some great musical numbers – including an excellent addition to the Muppets canon “Life’s A Happy Song,” the heartbreaker “Pictures in my Head,” and of course what we’ve all been waiting for – a barbership quartet version of “Smells like Teen Spirit.” And the humor is appropriately meta, with a bunch of old Muppets-style references to the fact that yes, they’re in a movie. *Diabolical laughter.*
The Muppets is, I believe, quite funny even if you’re not a die-hard Muppets fan. But if you are, there are tons of jokes that reference all the good Muppet movies, and a couple of nons. The more you know, the more you recognize how this movie is total and utter fan service.
If anything, the weakest bit about the Muppets is the addition of Walter, a young eager fan whose love for the Muppets kick-starts the events that bring the now-forgotten-and-far-spread Muppets team back together for one last reunion tour. It’s not that Walter is a bad Muppet – far from it, he’s lovable and earnest. But “lovable and earnest” is also Kermit’s schtick, so there’s a fair amount of overlap between Kermit’s “trying hard and believing the best of everybody” and Walter’s “trying hard and believing the best of everybody,” which leads to a slightly twinned climax where Kermit’s giving speeches that Walter could give, and vice versa.
…well, that and the fact that each of the Muppets gets very little air-time. Aside from Fozzie, Kermit, and Miss Piggy (who would not be IN the movie if she didn’t have air-time), all of the Muppets are introduced quickly, so quickly I wonder whether kids will get who they are. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are introduced in fifteen seconds of a montage and then largely forgotten, which is par for the course. It worked for me, who actively cheered when Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphones showed up… But will it snare new kids, who won’t have a real handle on who all these crazy guys are? Or will the tantalizing glimpses make them want to know more?
Regardless, Jason Segal understands exactly what makes the Muppets tick. Because the truth is, life in the Muppets universe kind of sucks. People have big dreams, and they don’t all come true. It’s a reflection of the Muppet way that the two lovers, Miss Piggy and Kermit, are really not meant to be together – they have such grand love and (in Kermit’s case, hidden) affection, but their personalities are such that they can only achieve happiness in short spurts, in eternal reunions just before the reality of love comes crashing down.
That’s okay, though. The Muppets are about what happens when dreams break and you’re still there, and what do you do then? And Kermit winces and takes your hand and bravely tells you that yes, you keep going. You always keep going.
The one true lesson of the Muppets is hope. Jason Segal knows this. And as such, there is hope, and love, and bravery in the face of total defeat, enough to make me cry. A lot.
The Muppets is not a great movie – like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is a B-movie that swings hard and hits far, arriving right on target. It’s as though Babe Ruth pointed his finger and announced, “I AM GOING TO HIT TO GET ME ON THIRD BASE!” and hit a perfect ball to the outfield. I don’t think the Muppets was meant to be great, merely entertaining. And in that, it succeeds. I’ll watch it on video, probably a lot.
I can’t tell you whether you should see it, unless you still feel this soft punch to your heart whenever you remember that Jim Henson’s dead. If you do, then you owe it to yourself to go. Jason Segal did Jim Henson proud, I think.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.