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The Muppets (***½)

Anyone who is or was a fan of what Jim Henson used to do with Kermit the Frog and company will be pleased with what ‘The Muppets’, the most purely nostalgic film of the year (perhaps aside from ‘Midnight in Paris’), has to offer.  This is the best the Muppets have been since Henson’s untimely death, and while it’s not quite on the level of the original film ‘The Muppet Movie’, this is probably their second best outing to date on screen.  By completely rejecting cynacism, writers Jason Segel (who also co-stars) and Nicholas Stoller embrace what made these characters special.  One can perhaps argue that at times this new film is a bit more childish than the of the Muppets canon, but by and large this is a rousing success.  Director James Bobin opens up the adventure in a visual way that most previous Muppet flicks didn’t, making for a nice looking movie as well.  By the time the third act comes around and all but perfectly re-creates an episode of ‘The Muppet Show’, this crew will have won you over, if they haven’t already.  For me, the whole lot of it worked and made for one of the most consistently entertaining films of the year.

This time around, the story focuses on the re-uniting of the Muppets.  Loved in their heyday by brothers Gary (Segel) and Walter (a Muppet who doesn’t realize he’s a Muppet), they’re now broken up and doing other things.  When Gary and Walter, along with Gary’s longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), head to Los Angeles and take a tour of the old Muppet Theater, they find the place in ruins.  Walter sneaks into Kermit’s old office to look around and overhears the evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) scheming about how he’s about to own the theater and tear it down unless somehow Kermit raises 10 million dollars.  This stimulates Walter, Gary, and Mary to hunt down the retired Kermit and convince him to get the old gang back together and put on a show to save the theater.  They find Fozzie doing a tribute act in Reno with the “Moopets”, Gonzo running a successful toilet business, Animal in anger management Scooter working for Google, along with Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem playing in the New York City subway, among others.  They all come along, but Miss Piggy (now an editor at Vogue in Paris) doesn’t initially want any part of this.  She and Kermit had a falling out, and she’s not ready to forgive and forget.  Eventually though, the gang is all together and ready to put on a telethon to save the theater.  The third act is really a tribute to ‘The Muppet Show’, and it’s glorious to behold.

There’s a bit more of the human performers initially here, but this is still about the Muppets through and through.  Jason Segel and Amy Adams are suitably old fashioned and cheesy in parts that are meant to compliment the Muppets and never upstage them.  As for Chris Cooper, he’s just what you want in a Muppet villain.  As for the Muppets themselves, they may not quite sound like you remember them, but they act the same way, so the spirit is there.  One great example of this is when Kermit sings his classic rendition of “Rainbow Connection”.  It doesn’t sound like Jim Henson, but the emotional effectiveness of the scene made my eyes well up.  These new performers get what makes Kermit so lovable, and the same goes for each character.  They capture what really counts.  As with any Muppet production, there are cameos, and these are lower key than usual, including appearances by Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Emily Blunt, James Carville, Zach Galifianakis, Donald Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, David Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, Ken Jeong, Rashida Jones, John Krasinski, Rico Rodriguez, Mickey Rooney, Kristen Schaal, and Sarah Silverman.  They never are there for long, but they’re all game for some lighthearted fun.

A huge amount of credit for the success of this flick goes to Jason Segel, who makes this feel like the Muppets in his screenplay that he wrote with Nicholas Stoller.  They never get dirty, and though they occasionally do some modern things (like Camilla and the other chickens doing a rendition of a recent hit song, or a barbershop quartet version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”), it’s a decidedly old fashioned production.  With the possible exception of Tex Richman singing a short rap song (which is amusing to see Chris Cooper do, but out of place in the film), they never miss.  When you mix that in with James Bobin’s well paced direction, you have a winner.  There’s a fair number of songs as well, written by Bret McKenzie, and they all feel like Muppet songs.  I can see one of them being nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, but it all depends on if the Academy is charmed like I was.  I personally still have “Life’s a Happy Song” still stuck in my head, so that would be where my vote lies.

‘The Muppets’ may not be an absolute classic just yet, but it’s a lovely movie and a real winner.  Few films this year have pleased me as much as this one.  It’s not an Oscar winner by any stretch, but sometimes you just need to sit back and smile.  ‘The Muppets’ achieves this in spades and made me feel like a kid again.  For all those reasons and more, it’s time to light the lights…

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72 points
Film Lover

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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