This has been a nostalgic year for Walt Disney Pictures, producing a new "Winnie the Pooh" movie and rereleasing "The Lion King" in 3-D. Now Disney brings back the Muppets, which the studio officially acquired the rights to in 2004 after years of collaborations like "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Muppet Treasure Island." The Muppets' latest film outing, which was pitched by Jason Segel and Nick Stoller, is a winner in just about every respect imaginable. It is crystal clear that all the people involved with the picture share nothing less than complete admiration for the Muppet legacy. The end result is a warm, delightfully corny, refreshing, and funny gem that will appeal to nostalgic adults just as much as it will to kids being introduced to the Muppets for the first time.
In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Segel played a composer that produced a Dracula musical with puppets. Now he's working alongside the most famous puppets in the world, acting as the co-writer and star of "The Muppets." He plays Gary, a jolly man who lives in a small town called Smalltown. Since Amy Adams has already mastered playing a Disney princess, it was only logical that she would eventually act with the Muppets. Here she shines as Mary, Gary's girlfriend of 10 years who is so pure she brings the Virgin Mary to mind. Gary also has a brother named Walter, who nobody seems to notice is actually a living, felt puppet. It's my theory that Gary and Walter are only half brothers and their mother had an affair with a member of the Sesame Street gang.
The brothers grow up watching "The Muppet Show" and Walter in particular develops into their biggest fan. They travel to Los Angeles to finally take a tour of the Muppet Studios. They are underwhelmed upon arrival however, finding the studio rustic and abandoned, probably due to the financial flop that was "Muppets from Space." Walter learns that an evil businessman with the ironic name of Tex Richman, played by the villainous Chris Cooper, plans to buy the studio to drill for oil. Walter, Gary, and Mary inform Kermit the Frog, who is now living the lifestyle of Norma Desmond in "Sunset Blvd." Kermit decides to get the old crew back together for one last show to raise the money to save the studio.
Keeping in the tradition of previous films, "The Muppets" features cameos from numerous big-name stars. Instead of Bob Hope and Steve Martin though, we get walk-on roles from Jack Black, Emily Blunt, and Neil Patrick Harris. There are several other notable names, but I don't want to spoil the surprises for you. Segel, Adams, and Cooper especially do great work as the three main human characters. Each strikes just the right balance of appearing happy to star in a Muppet movie without trying to outshine the Muppets themselves.
The Muppets are truly the stars of the picture and all of them are permitted a chance to shine, from Fozzie Bear and his intentionally bad jokes, to Gonzo the Great and his bowling ball tricks, to Beaker and his high pitched voice, to the Swedish Chef and his incomprehensible accent, to the scene-stealing Miss Piggy and her temper tantrums, to the welcome newcomer of Walter who also possesses a hidden talent. For me it's impossible not to laugh at Kermit the Frog as he panics backstage with his arms waving in the air.
The film also features several original songs by Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords." McKenzie's offbeat lyrics and whimsical tone are a perfect match for "The Muppets," bringing us catching tunes like the lighthearted "Life's a Happy Song," the melancholy "Pictures in My Head," and the hysterical "Man or Muppet." Since this is also a reunion of sorts, the film makes time for classic Muppets songs such as the eternal "Rainbow Connection." Even a day after the screening I still have that "Mahna, Mahna" song stuck in my head.
So many entertainments directed at kids nowadays come off as cynical in an attempt to feel hip and trendy. "The Muppets" is a genuine treasure that absolutely lives up to the late Jim Henson's original vision. This is the one movie of the year that I can't possibly imagine somebody not enjoying. If you're suffering from clinical depression, "The Muppets" is the best cure.