Directed by James Bobin. Starring Amy Adams, Jason Segel, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman, Feist, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez. (2011, PG, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 25, 2011
It is with immense pleasure that I can report that Disney's Muppet reboot movie is an absolute delight. It hews very closely to the original item, with all the original Muppet characters on board, along with one new one: the small, orange Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) who doesn't, in fact, realize that he's a Muppet. He believes he's the shorter, fuzzier, younger brother of Jason Segel's human Gary. Through events too circuitous to mention here, Walter, Gary, and Gary's best gal Mary (Adams, redefining the word "perky") journey "by map" to the old Muppet Theater, now a cobwebbed, empty shadow of its former self. While there, Walter surreptitiously overhears villainous Tex Richman (Cooper) reveal his plans to tear down the historical theatre for the oil that apparently lies beneath it. What to do? Why, track down the original Muppet Show members, of course, and put on the Great Muppet Telethon to come up with the $10 million needed to pry the theatre from Richman's grasp.
Yes, it's the hoariest of "Let's put on a show!" cliches – Mickey Rooney even makes an appearance – but for once, it works just as it should. Walter, Gary, and a less than over-the-moon Mary (it's supposed to be the couple's 10th anniversary) corral the great Muppet diaspora – Fozzie's fronting a faux Muppet nostalgia act in Reno, Miss Piggy's editing French Vogue in Paris, etc. – and it's on with the show.
The Muppets was co-written by star Segel and fellow Judd Apatow pal Nicholas Stoller, and clearly, both have remained very much in love with the artfully absurd tone of the series they grew up with. True Muppet maniacs (including, ahem, punk rock supergroup Me First & the Gimme Gimmes and, ahem again, this reviewer) are advised to bring a hankie; the big musical showstopper will be as overwhelmingly familiar and emotionally front-loaded as the Gonzo cannon fodder gag, and I'm positive I'm not the only one whose eyes got misty from the memories it engendered.
This leads me to several very important questions: Are the Muppets now merely much-loved memories trotted out for one more go-round before being retired to the broom closet of long-forgotten variety shows? Are they now best typified by box-seat blowhards Statler and Waldorf instead of the eternally optimistic and inspirational Kermit? Can a franchise that kowtowed to no one (and never spoke down to its audience no matter how old they may have been), yet hasn't had a financially substantial theatrical hit since 1992's The Muppet Christmas Carol be successfully rebooted for a new, young audience weened on Pixar and Pirates of the Caribbean? In short, are the Muppets passé?
To those questions (and pretty much all others) I can only answer with a resoundingly affirmative "Wocka, wocka, wocka!". The Muppets may have been gone, but they're certainly not forgotten, and it's an absolute joy to have them back. After all, to paraphrase Walt Kelly: We have met the Muppets, and they are us.