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THE MUPPETS
reviewed by Matthew Schuchman
11.22.2011

Walt Disney Pictures
98 mins., dir. by James Bobin, with Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and Chris Cooper

The Muppets are the one franchise I feel can appeal to both children and adults on multiple levels. Their jokes are funny to both demographics and, on the whole, are clean. With a script penned by the traditionally raunchy Jason Segel and Nick Stoller, The Muppets “reboot” is cute and enjoyable, but not without some issues.

Walter is your run-of-the-mill kid living in a small suburban town. His parents love him, and his brother is a close confidant and protector. Of course, to the audience, the fact that Walter is a puppet is overlooked. When he discovers the Muppets, he feels a connection with the cadre of lovable characters and devotes his life to Muppet fandom.

Walter’s brother is heading to L.A. with his girlfriend to celebrate their 10-year anniversary and decide to take Walter along so he can tour Muppet studios. Now defunct and vacant, Walter learns of a dastardly plan by oil tycoon Tex Richman to buy the property and tear it down. Understanding that the only way to stop Richman is to have the Muppets buy back the property for the price of 10 million dollars, as Walter sets out to bring the Muppets back together and put on a show to save the theater and their friendships.

From the minor to the major aspects, the film borrows heavily from the previous Muppet movies. Like the original film, much of The Muppets is a road movie, and the reunion aspect of The Muppets Take Manhattan is front and center. The endless line of random cameos (the Animal replacement in a Muppets knock-off act is priceless) is well in place with an array of celebrities, some whom appeal to older audience members with others for the younger viewers. The general irreverent comedy of the Muppets, is intact and there is very little identifiable typical Segel and Stoller humor to overpower the surefire system the characters have in place. The overall product is fun and enjoyable, but with a few key problems.

This is a Muppets movie. They’re the stars and there’s no question about it, yet the Jason Segel/Amy Adams plot line weighs in too heavily at times. Their problems shouldn’t be the focal point… ever. With so many characters in the Muppet universe, time spent on this side plot keeps a lot of Muppets in the lurch. The Muppets are the longest running franchise that created a brand new character nearly 20 years into its run, and to their credit, it was successful and funny. Pepe The King Prawn is relegated to a practically unfunny cameo in this adventure, and it’s a crying shame he was pushed to the side so easily.

Directed by “Flight of the Conchords” co-creator James Bobin, with all songs and choreography by the Conchord’s Bret McKenzie, the entire experience feels more like an episode of that show and only made me yearn more than ever for a Flight of the Conchords movie.The melody, choreography, and style of the song ”Am I a Muppet or a Man?” is oddly reminiscent of the “I’m Not Crying” section of the Flight of the Conchords first episode. There are more than a few noticeable similarities throughout out the film, specifically in the musical sections; despite this, the musical numbers are enjoyable and funny (Chris Cooper’s solo performance will have the theater rolling on the floor in a flourish of shocking laughter).

Nitpicking aside, The Muppets does its job well. Returning to its film roots with some new tricks, The Muppets provides laughs for all and enough nostalgia for anyone who grew up with the show. In a perfect world, this new installment to the storied franchise might spark interest in bringing the variety show back to television. If it helps get a Flight of the Conchords movie made as well, all the better.

Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache (http://shalitsstache.com) and the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind(http://ipaintmymind.org).

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