Review by Guest Writer DREW HUNTER
First off: No worries here, mate. This ship is spoiler-free.
Second off: There are two versions of this review – a short one (which, honestly, contains all you actually want to know) and a staggeringly, embarrassingly, annoyingly, cloying, minorly sentimental, long one (which is only here only for my fellow I-Like-Long-Sentimental-Online-Amateur-Movie-Reviews masochists). Oh, and that second one contains a massive over-abundance of – and dependence-on – asides, author’s notes, adjectives, adverbs, parentheses, hyphens, apostrophes and colons.
So… choose your poison. For the long one, I promise you one thing: the abundance of information I provide will assure that you will never doubt my movie-goer’s position and exactly where in the fan spectrum I come from. Yay?
Groovy. Let’s roll.
FIRST AND SHORT (as promised):
Short review? Super-condensed, Rotten-Tomatoes-Friendly, Hyperbole time!
The Muppets is the Muppet movie you want to see.
Yup. That’s it. Fans will go nuts. The gags, the characterization, the MODERNIZATION of the characterization, the (surprisingly) touching story, the gags, the self-reference, the Hollywood skewing, the cameos, the performances of the Muppets, the performances of the people, the musical numbers, the new Muppet (Walter), etc. It’s all perfect. Perfect. I smiled for 90 minutes. It’s what you want. Stop reading at that last period because it’s all you really need to know. This is the Muppet movie you want to see.
Enjoy. I know you will.
SECOND AND WAY TOO LONG (also as promised… beware):
I walked in as a fan. A fringe fan, to be sure, but a fan, nonetheless. I’ve always appreciated the characters and the self-referential humor. I love the Muppets 3D at Disneyland but I remember little of The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, or The Great Muppet Caper. The only Muppet Show episode I remember is “Pigs in Space” and even then only barely. I’ve never seen Muppets in Space or The Muppet Wizard of Oz (probably to my benefit), and the only movies I really know are Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island (both of which I like tremendously, if not quite love).
I, like many of you, was excited at the prospect of Jason Segel being a creative force on this project. His love of the Muppets has been hugely apparent for years: in both interviews and (wonderfully) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. However, Frank Oz’s disavowment of the film was a huge worry for me. Friends and other viewers in line echoed this concern. I don’t like to pre-judge (slash read every piece of gossip, every article and every review on Ain’t It Cool and otherwise – natch). But you know what? That shit matters. What if a new Indiana Jones film came out and Spielberg said he didn’t approve of the product? You’d be goddamn worried, right?
Well, Spielberg delivered the turd of Crystal Skull and Frank Oz is completely wrong about this Muppets movie. It is, in every possible way, a perfectly balanced and respectful modernization and emotional expansion of these classic characters (excuse me: stars). I make the correction to stars because, at this point, the Muppets are far more than characters. The Muppets are actors.
No? Look at Kermit. He alone has been featured in not only television commercials, lunch boxes and amusement park rides but he’s also had the opportunity of playing Dickens’ Bob Cratchit, Stevenson’s Captain Abraham Smollett and Baum’s brainless Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. Characters don’t do that. James Bond never played Hamlet and Luke Skywalker never came close to living his dream of famously portraying the Devil (though Hamill’s Joker comes close).
The point is: The Muppets are actors. Calling them mere ‘characters’ would be a discredit to Jim Henson’s creations. From his hands were birthed celebrities. Not characters but actors, and not just actors but famous actors. This film takes that reality (established in The Muppet Movie) and brilliantly fast-forwards it to 2011 to show where they all are now (and what needs to happen to get the magic flowing again – even if some of them have no vested interest).
In many ways: this is the Seinfeld-Arc-On-Curb-Your-Enthusiasm of Muppet movies: a brutally self-referential and touchingly emotional dissection of fame and the fickle way it can ebb and flow (or is it brutally emotional and touchingly self-referential? Answer?: “it’s an over-dependence on modifiers to make my point” and “Actually, both word arrangements are accurate”).
The very-aware screenplay lets the Muppets shine as themselves: raw and open and exposed – flaws and all. That’s right: flaws. Something I’d never really noticed in a Muppet movie before. Kermit isn’t always right. Crazy, I know! He’s always been like Mickey Mouse to me: bumbling but just fine. “Hey, Mickey! Steamboat getting you down? Travel trailer falling apart on a steep mountain road? Oh, Mickey… don’t just the craziest things happen to you!”
This is not how I felt about the Muppets tonight. I felt sad, happy, reflective, stressed, relieved, angry, panicked and hopeful (did someone say over-dependence on modifiers?). For the first time in my life, having watched and enjoyed the Muppets for all of my 27 years: I felt for them. Not as puppets and not as characters but as people. And as characters. As Muppets playing characters. As Muppet actors playing decidedly human but still Muppet charact… oh, you get it!
I’m going to be honest: this single paragraph was added after the whole thing because I realized I hadn’t mentioned it. But hey, it’s an online film review and, if you’re reading this, you’re very likely a geek. So… you love when creatives add scenes and sections after the fact, right? Oh, right… We generally hate that. Anyways, I’m not gonna talk about the human actors but I’ll give you a taste if you’re dying to know: Segel is absolutely wonderful, Cooper is fun (his musical number starts with you rolling your eyes and ends with you grasping your splitting sides), Adams is OK – disappointing but completely serviceable – and the cameos are delightful but unmentionable due to the surprise-preservation of it all.
This brings us to my light, light criticisms.
However, in case other readers are as mood-and location-affects-the-movie-reviewer’s-opinion OCD as I am, allow me to clarify my movie-going situation. I was in the perfect seat, with the perfect companion and in the perfect mood. Additionally, I was perfectly Red Bull’d, perfectly tipsy, perfectly fed and perfectly urinated. I was in the right place for this movie (some may say the perfect place).
Cool? Good to go? Okay, then. The second act drags in places. I don’t like saying it because it’s so bloody ‘film school’ but damn it: it drags. Also, the cameos (while plentiful, delightful and GODDAMN YOU IF YOU SPOIL THEM FOR ANYBODY!), are not as good as I would have hoped. I thought for sure a certain prematurely-white-haired-banjo-pickin’ actor would show up after his none-too-disguised mention. But no. Psst. Plant with no payoff is no bueno. Fine, you don’t have to show every celebrity you ever mention but, in a historically cameo-laden film and TV series, you can’t mention a name and not expect us to expect to see them later (especially a Muppet cameo staple like the aforementioned premature-white-haired so-and-so). That’s just sloppy. Ricky Ricardo never mentioned Cesar Romero unless he was booked to knock on the living-room door in the 3rd act. That’s the damn truth.
Fine: I guess we still got Mickey Rooney (among others). Oh! Did I say spoiler free? My bad. But it doesn’t matter: his cameo will delight you all the same. And no, I haven’t come anywhere near revealing the biggest ones. Those are for you to find out. Also, if you see it early or before your friends: GODDAMN YOU IF YOU SPOIL THEM FOR ANYBODY!
Second criticism: Hollywood Satire = Not Cynical Enough. I have a pretty strong feeling that this is not the fault of the writers. You will notice when you see it (if I’m not nutso, which is totally possible) that many moments and jokes feel like they got the classic “editing-short-shrift”. And not the editor’s “editing-short-shrift”. I mean the studio’s “editing-short-shrift”.
For instance, the one joke featuring a current-state-of-television/reality-TV/my-industry parody is hilarious – and contains my biggest laugh of the film – but is just that: one joke. However, I don’t blame the writers. I have a feeling many, many more parodies were written, filmed and abandoned in the post-production/audience-testing/creativity-stifling stage of it all. The sequence felt like it was going on a reality TV tear (which I got crazy excited for, seeing how The Muppets have been one of our greatest parody/satire machines for decades). Alas the delightful parody detour was over and were back to the main (but great and still self-referential, if not parody-ridden) story. Not to say the satire that remains throughout the film isn’t funny or biting or brutal (it is: poor, poor Fozzie). I just wished they hadn’t held back at time.
Finally… I miss Rizzo. This is an early ‘Muppets’ throwback movie (meaning old-school Muppets only), but damn it! I’m a Christmas Carol and Treasure Island fan and I really, really missed Gonzo and Rizzo’s interplay (which, in case you didn’t know, had become a major feature of the series). Sure, Rizzo exists in this film but good Lord, it’s in the worst, most embarrassing way. It’s like Lando featuring in Return of the Jedi with no lines and appearing solely as an arrowhead on the tip of an Ewok spear. Or like Chewbacca showing up for no good reason in the prequ… Or Yoda becoming a CG, sword-fighting grasshopp… Or Indy surviving a point-black nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridg… You get the point. If you’re a Rizzo fan like me and see The Muppets: I dare you to disagree.
Contrary to some of the early reviews I read: I should note that I fuckin’ love Walter. A new muppet? Worrisome, for sure. But Walter represents a very clever (and totally charming) way to tell this story from a vitally important ‘Fish Out of Water’ standpoint, even if it’s also entirely cliché.
Sound hypocritical? It is but here’s why. Without going into too much detail: they made it work. I suppose brilliantly self-referential, self-aware humor can cover up a shocking amount of cliché. Additonally, and basically, a fresh voice was desperately needed and his backstory as a long-time Muppet fan plays an unexpectedly vital “meta” role. Knowing Jason Segel’s involvement and the character he plays (and presumably wrote for himself), it’s pretty clear that Walter represents him, his love of the Muppets and, to get real deep: his own loneliness and youthful detachment. A late-act musical number reflects this belief very, very strongly and very, very powerfully. It’s also very, very funny. This perfect balance of laughs to pathos is true of the entire film and will likely lead me into this review’s closer (much to your relief, I’m sure).
Now to swing this whole-bastard-thing of a review in for landing and into the super-positive review territory in which this film belongs:
I simply have yet to wipe the smile from this film off of my face. The script is wonderful, the direction is wonderful, the 3rd-act Noises Off recreation of an episode of The Muppet Show is wonderful and the performances by the stars, both Muppet and human, are wonderful. For fuck’s sake, I can see the hand beneath Kermit’s goddamn face and he’s still easily funnier than Sandler’s Jack and Jill five times over. This will be, and deserves to be, a huge hit and, if there’s any justice in the world, will eclipse Sandler’s latest abortion in every conceivable way.
To reiterate my shorter review above (my apologies to everyone that made it this far, because… psssst, they end the same way…): This is the Muppet movie you want to see.
Enjoy. I know you will.
I would like to dedicate this review to Jim Henson (for obvious reasons) and to Desiderius Erasmus (who, according to Wikipedia, named the parentheses – again, for obvious reasons).