Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movie Review: The Muppets

I recently saw The Muppets. This decision was a foregone conclusion from the first time I heard rumor that a new Muppet movie was being made, one that was going to bring them "back to form". It certainly helped that the movie is getting glowing reviews from big-name critics and small-name bloggers. The gist of what the reviews are saying are:
  • The Muppets, who seemed completely lost after Muppets From Space, have found their way back into our hearts and imagination.
  • The cornerstone of The Muppets has been, is, and always will be their realness. And this movie cements that cornerstone even more securely.
  • Stars of stage and screen, past and present, will still do the ridiculous to be in a Muppet movie.
  • The Muppets are as sweet, topical, and subversive as ever.
  • The humans aren't too shabby either.
  • There is humor for all ages. And all ages can enjoy this flick without worry.
There are a few misfires ... a "WTF" moment with an ill-advised song, an over-abundance of human actors taking up Muppet screen time, too much breaking the Fourth Wall, too much self-referencing. But there are also some great moments ... David Grohl's brief cameo, Sweetums' introduction (for you who've watched all The Muppet movies), Jack Black's performance, the musical numbers (one touching number, specifically, which references something that actually happened on The Muppet Show). Go watch it; this movie gets a solid 4.5 out of 5.

But this isn't what my movie review is really about. I'm about to go deeper into my impressions and thoughts on the movie. Those of you who want to remain untainted by opinion before seeing it should stop reading now and come back again afterwards.

The plot is a superfan getting the crew together to save a forgotten and decaying relic of the past from destruction and desecration. Basically. There's a lesson about finding one's own way in life, discovering one's true self. But, really, who can pay attention to that when we have to get The Muppets back together again?

Don't be fooled. This movie is about reclaiming and reviving one's childhood. Not reliving it ... resuscitating it, bringing it back to life.

There are many out there, Mr. Segel included (at 1:49), who think that The Muppets had to be brought back from the dusty crates and moth-ridden closets for this newest generation to truly appreciate them. And, you know, for this newest generation, those who presumably have never seen The Muppet Show or any of the first three Muppet movies ... maybe they did need a new movie. Maybe they needed this fresh view to really get what The Muppets are and why the people of my generation cherish them so dearly.

Except these aren't my Muppets. Jim Henson has been long dead. The same is true for Richard Hunt. Frank Oz decided to sit this one out. These were the heart, soul, voices, and operators of at least thirteen of your main Muppets, most of whom are major characters in this movie. The kids won't know. But I do. See, The Muppets aren't like James Bond ... you can't just insert new voice and hand and go along as if nothing's changed. Because everything has changed. These people didn't just operate these characters ... these characters were an extension of their unique personalities. You can't just replace a personality (although Madonna has certainly tried to do that over the course of her career).

No, these aren't my Muppets. They are Muppets playing my Muppets. Acting, if you will. And on that point they succeed. Just like I could accept Roger Moore as James Bond, just like I could accept Michael Gambon as Albus Dumbledore, just like I could accept Brian Johnson as lead singer of AC/DC, I can accept these Muppets as a more than adequate substitute for the Muppets of my youth.

So I went and saw The Muppets and I enjoyed it. The Muppets allowed me to fall in love anew with my felt friends. It allowed me to reminisce on my childhood. But it made me want to go back to my The Muppet Show DVDs and watch the real deal. Because no matter how much we wish we could, we can only relive the past; we can't recreate it.

I do wish this new iteration ... this "reboot", if you will ... all the best. In my opinion, they did the legacy of Jim Henson and all of those original Muppeteers proud. I hope that they can continue to build on this foundation that Jason Segel has built because it's a pretty solid one.