Like most people my age, I grew up with the Muppets. I think my love of pop culture owes a lot to repeated viewings of The Muppet Babies. Hearing about Jim Henson’s death is a childhood moment I remember to this day. I am also a huge fan of Jason Segel. So when I heard that he was writing the new muppet movie, I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Segel took everything one loves about the Muppets and put it in modern times, complete with a who’s who of today’s comedy world.
The film follows Walter and Gary (Segel), a Muppet and a man who are brothers. The two travel with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles where they learn that the old Muppet Theater will soon belong to an oil tycoon who plans to destroy it. To raise the money to save the theater, they gather the Muppets, who have parted ways over years, to do a big reunion show. The Muppets have to remind an audience who has moved on in their absence who they are and the magic that they represent. Along the way they run into a lot of familiar faces, some playing themselves, others playing new wacky characters.
The first sign that this was going to be a classic Muppet movie was the song “Life’s a Happy Song”. This is an adorably sweet song and completely encapsulates the tenderness that we come to expect from the Muppets. While “Man or a Muppet” won Flight of the Concords member Bret McKenzie an Oscar for best song, I really thought “Life’s a Happy Song” was stronger. “Pictures in my Head” made me emotional as Kermit sings about how all he misses about his old friends. Although they are clearly made of felt and I know that they are controlled by puppeteers, I’ve seen the Muppets share so much together and it was sad to think such strong friendships had fallen to disrepair. “Me Party” was so Flight of the Concords, but a wonderful fit for Amy Adams’ almost patented brand of adorableness. The only musical misstep, in my opinion, is Chris Cooper rapping. While it’s kind of funny that he has back-up singers in his closet, just waiting for him to start rapping, it’s more than a little cringe worthy. During the telethon, the Muppets perform modern classics like “Smells Like Team Spirit” (which Courtney Love is now claiming is a rape of the original song, but whatever Courtney, Dave Grohl is in the film so he’s clearly ok with this) and Camilla and the gals show that Cee-lo’s “Fuck You” was written to be performed by chickens.
I really found this film to be a love letter to people my age. My generation defines themselves by what they find funny and in our lifetime, some amazing alternative comics have gone mainstream. The cast is filled with familiar faces from Jack Black to Zach Galifianakis to Donald Glover, it’s a pretty hip crew, and they all share a love of making people laugh and The Muppets. Maybe the two are somehow connected. But I felt like I was watching friends put on a show and they were winking at me after every in-joke.
One thing I find myself wondering when watching anything Muppet related is, am I supposed to like or hate Miss Piggy? She really is the only real female character in the Muppet universe, but she’s so flawed. She’s bossy, she has a temper, she’s completely obsessed and possessive about Kermit. However, in this film, she’s a little softer, more modern. She’s built a career for herself in the plus-sized fashion world and is unwilling to carry on any kind of relationship with Kermit unless he cares for her and, more importantly, allows himself to show it.
It warmed my heart to watch Jason Segel living at lifelong dream. He’s been an admitted Muppets fanatic for years and it’s a treat to watch him interact with Kermit and the gang, knowing how much it means to him. I heard he will not be involved in the squeal, which is a shame, but I will keep my fingers crossed that the next film has even half the heart of this one.
Kermit the Frog: Guys, we can’t kidnap Jack Black. That’s illegal!
Fozzie Bear: What’s more illegal, Kermit: briefly inconveniencing Jack Black, or destroying the Muppets?
Kermit the Frog: Kidnapping Jack Black!