Thursday 23 February 2012


Have you ever asked yourself the question, am I a man or am I a Muppet? Well thanks to Jason Segel we finally we have a film that can answer that very question.

Having grown up watching the Muppets on television, Walter and his brother Gary (Jason Segel) decide to visit the famous Muppet Studios along with Gary's loving girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). When Walter overhears the dastardly plans of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to bulldoze the studios and drill for oil, he teams up with Kermit the Frog to try and put the old gang back together for a show that could save the studios.

Starting with a well judged montage that sees how the Muppets shaped the childhood of Gary and Walter (although it is never explained, Walter is a Muppet), you may well be in tears of nostalgic joy before the main plot has even begun. As plotlines go, the 'getting the gang back together for a show' is something that everyone from The Blues Brothers to The Muppets have called upon before, but despite not being the most original idea, it serves its purpose as a basic springboard for madcap hilarity.

It's easy to read parallels between the plot of the film and real life. Just like their status as a forgotten comedy/musical troupe in the film, this probably was the last attempt to relaunch The Muppets for a new generation before putting them out to pasture. In semi retirement since 1999's Muppets in Space (but with a couple of made for TV movies since that aren't really worth talking about), The Muppets have been owned by Disney since 2004, up to this point with no idea how to use them.

Thank the lord then for Jason Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller who, on the back of Segel's successful puppet show in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, chose to write this lovingly nostalgic tribute to The Muppets that not only invigorates the franchise for a new generation, saves them from becoming over diluted or saccharine; Disney-fied, if you will. To keep the project on the right track, the hiring of Flight of the Conchords co-creator James Bobin as director was a great move, but the absolute jewel in the crown is getting Conchords' Bret McKenzie on board as 'music supervisor'.

It's unfair that the Oscars saw fit to reduce this year's Best Song category down to a mere two entries (Man or Muppet up against Rio's Real in Rio) as there's more than one song here that deserves a nomination. Yes, you will leave the film singing Man or Muppet, but you'll also find yourself singing Life's a Happy Song as you wander down the street, passing other people doing exactly the same thing and offering a knowing smile to each other. As you'd expect, some of the songs don't work quite as well as others, with Amy Adams' diner set solo being unnecessary and a brief musical interlude with Tex Richman being absolutely bizarre, but if somehow Bret McKenzie doesn't take home the Oscar for his efforts, it'll be wholly unjust.

Whilst attempts have been made to make sure that everyone's favourite Muppets get enough screen time, some of them do get short changed in favour of Kermit and Miss Piggy. Still, thanks to a well placed montage there doesn't appear to be anyone missing, even if they're relegated to the background. As for the new addition to the group, Walter is a charming little fellow, bridging the gap between the old and the new and the men and The Muppets.

There's plenty of cameos from celebrities willing to give The Muppets that bit of moral support, even if some of them are completely unknown to audiences outside the US (seriously, who is that little boy who turns up with Whoopi Goldberg?), but given the whole nostalgia vibe, it's a shame they didn't rope in any of the many performers who appeared with The Muppets in their former TV show or films. Jack Black's an okay A-lister, but did no-one think to give Steve Martin a call?

Once we've reached the finale, the film does start to sag a little bit. For a film that in its earlier scenes unashamedly moved along at a zippy pace by having its characters travel by map or point out that they're reciting some important plot points, the final show does start to drag a little bit. It also may have unwittingly revealed who Disney think this film's primary audience really is. As the word of the new Muppet show gets out and people start to roll up, it's not children who fill the auditorium but nostalgic grown-ups, none of which appear under the age of 30. Luckily for a film so intrinsically linked with childhood, (which was released in the States last November) it appears a lot of grown ups decided to take their kids along too, as the still growing box office proves that The Muppets are appealing to a new generation.

Despite flashes of corporate synergy visible (posters for Cars 2 everywhere, fireworks in the shape of Mickey, the fact that the main character is called Walter), the film succeeds by avoiding an over-Disneyfication and by being as madly unpredictable as the earlier outings of these characters. The very definition of a joyful film, never mind counting the number of kids in the audience, this is a film for anyone who's ever felt fuzzy over fuzzy felt.


1 comment:

  1. Gotta agree with you on the music score, ive been singing the songs all week. Seeing the Cars 2 poster a lot really did bug me, but i hadnt thought about the demographics of the theatre audience.