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Review: The Muppets
by Susana Polo | 12:31 pm, November 22nd, 2011
Normally, the TL;DR goes at the end of a long post, but for this review, I’m going to put it up here and elaborate below. This review will be spoiler free, except when I tell you that the movie has a happy ending, which hopefully you don’t think is a spoiler because it’s a Muppet movie for Henson’s sake. Moving along:
Is the movie funny? Oh goodness, yes. Even if you don’t get the common injokes that will be the delight of longtime fans. Brand new Muppet 80s Robot shines like the tab from a freshly opened can of New Coke. Is the movie a Muppet movie? Yes, it feels instinctively like a Muppet film much in the way that The Crystal Skull failed to feel like an Indiana Jones movie and instead felt like very well produced Indiana Jones fanfiction. The Muppets is full of those beloved Muppet themes like family being what you make it no matter how strange, believing in yourself, and finding your own dream and following it. The music? Toe tapping. Tear jerking. The cameos? Brilliantly placed. I literally cannot stress this last point enough, because I can’t actually tell you about them with out ruining the best ones.
But the question that The Muppets leaves you with is: will life imitate art?
Will the arc of the movie, that of the Muppets making a successful comeback from decades of obscurity, be followed by an actual comeback? The Muppets doesn’t skirt around how closely its premise mimics reality; it strains at the fourth wall like a big dog at a leash. Kermit’s relation (in song) of the years the Muppets have spent apart and how impossible it seems for them to regain their beloved status is heavy with the weight of the Muppets’ actual history. Walter, the movie’s other original Muppet and one of the central characters, is a grown fan of the Muppets, and much of his dialogue is ripped from the mouth of every person who has ever felt that the Muppets expressed a part of them that no human performer ever could (now would be a good time to remind everyone that this description includes producer, writer and star of The Muppets Jason Segel).
Of course, the movie also frequently flat out breaks the fourth wall, although usually just to acknowledge that the characters are acting in a movie, not that they have actually been in various states of toiling in obscurity or independence or fame away from The Muppet Show.
But lets talk about the movie instead of it’s fallout, for a bit. The Muppets has been criticized for making some jokes and having some details of setting that would be considered out of character, like Fozzie’s fart shoes (it’s in the commercials! not a spoiler!). The full extent of bowel related humor in the film consists of two references to the fart shoes, and one or two examples of (literal) toilet jokes, none of which seemed particularly transgressive to me. It does seem odd that Kermit the Frog would live alone in a giant house with an electric fence (commercials! not a spoiler!), but after taking in all the details of an actual viewing we get a better sense of how he wound up there and why he stayed.
Reviewers have also criticized The Muppets for spending too much time on its human protagonists, and I’d be lying if I didn’t have moments where I found myself wondering, and an Ian Malcolm sort of way, “Ah, now eventually you do plan to have Muppets on your, on your Muppet movie, right?” However, the only time that thought was not immediately interrupted by the appearance of a Muppet was the very beginning of the film when we are getting acquainted with the whole premise. Overall, Gary and Mary were far less consequential to the plot than, for example, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver. If you’re going to criticize the movie (an unevenness of pacing might be a valid place to start), there are other things to talk about. Every number that began as if it was going to be a solo human-sung song turned into a duet about a verse later, and actually gave us some interesting thematic parallels between the human and muppet characters.
Which brings me to Ms. Piggy (this connection will make sense once you see the movie). I’ve never been a huge fan of Piggy. She’s funny, sure, but the diva act turns me cold when delivered in large quantities, so I never saw her as a role model. That’s just some exposition to give you before I say that The Muppets made me really like Piggy. As the most successful of the Muppets during their obscurity (I won’t tell you where, just in case you haven’t seen it in the publicity yet) Piggy has the least reason to return to the troupe, and points this out. Her new life is emotionally valuable to her, she’s earned it through hard work and independence. But the terms of her return are not about a diva tantrum of playing professional hard-to-get, instead they are rooted firmly in legitimate concerns about her romantic life. The kind of concerns that real reasonable adults have about commitment and personal independence. The addition of these themes to The Muppets doesn’t drag the movie into too-serious/too-adult territory, rather it adds just enough realism to Piggy and Kermit’s relationship to take it out of the realm of parody and running gags and into a place where you can see actual love, not an exaggeration of it.
To conclude, The Muppets is just about everything I’d want from a Muppet movie (except more Rizzo, but likely everybody has got one character who they’ll feel didn’t get enough screen time). It made me cry four distinct times (including every time Kermit started singing), making The Muppets the only non-Pixar film I have ever shed tears for. As a very big Muppet fan, I don’t have a tremendous amount of faith in my ability to perceive whether the movie would be enjoyable by someone who wasn’t, but as long as you don’t hate Muppet humor, you’re still gonna laugh at this thing.
The question now is, is The Muppets a real comeback? Or just a fictional one? This Muppet fan urges you to go see it in an effort to make it the former.
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