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Green is Good
The Muppets (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Muppets (DVD)
Advantages: Genuinely funny, surprsingly good songs, well-balanced script
Disadvantages: Human cast gets a bit lost, a touch too long
It's been a long time since the Muppets last appeared on screen (big or small) and so releasing a film now was something of a risk. In an age of high concept action movies, edgy-knowing cartoons and computer generated animations, can a bunch of cloth puppets really still cut it?
I confess I went into this film with fear and trepidation, worried that yet another fond childhood memory was about to be stomped on. Thankfully, the franchise has been resurrected by a genuine fan and so what evolves is a funny, feel-good film that uses the Muppets property well, and is not just a cynical marketing ploy to make money from toy sales.
The plot reflects the sad reality of The Muppets' history. They have all split up and gone their separate ways - the heyday of their show long behind them. The famous old Muppet Theatre is scheduled to be bought and demolished by evil oil baron Tex Richmann unless they can come up with $10 million in just one week. Kermit and friends respond in the only way they know how... by putting on a show.
OK, so the basic plot is cornier than something that comes on a cob and contains nothing original. The idea of putting on a show to raise money has been done dozens of times before and smacks of old Cliff Richard movies of the 50s (shudder). Yet, as you might expect, the plot is really just there to give the film a bit of structure, to act as a platform to allow the Muppets' anarchic style of comedy. What follows is a fine, old-fashioned Muppets outing, packed with lots of laughs and some surprisingly decent toe-tapping song and dance routines.
The script treads a fine line between cheesiness and good old-fashioned fun, although there are a couple of occasions when it slightly oversteps the mark. It's obvious that writer/actor Jason Segel is a huge Muppets fan and he perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of The Muppets in a script which is both an homage to the earlier shows and a reimagining of the creatures for a new, savvier age.
The comedy is the same as ever and that's no bad thing. In an age when every "comedy" seems to rely on bodily functions for laughs, it's great to see the clock turned back to a more innocent time. The edgiest gag in The Muppets (and a brilliantly timed one at that) sees Fozzy Bear create a pair of "fart shoes" by strapping a couple of whoopee cushions to his feet. It might not sound terribly funny but trust me: seen in context, it is.
The humour also has a lot of variety to it: visual gags, bad puns and wordplay, daft ideas, bickering and poking fun at anything and everything. Some of the best Muppet humour came when it broke the fourth wall, reminding you that you were just watching a TV show. The new movie carries on that tradition leading to some of the film's finest moments ("travelling by map" and the "getting the gang back together by montage" to save time are particularly inspired).
OK, so The Muppets is perhaps not quite as good as in its heyday, but the key thing is it's good enough. It might not make you roll around the floor with aching sides, but it will make you laugh, smile and chortle at the crazy antics, and it will make you do so regularly. This is a film which is still making you laugh as much in the closing sequence as it was in the opening ones. Once it gets over the slightly slow start (i.e. once the Muppets actually appear), it's a film will delight young and old alike.
It's true that the human cast can get a bit lost, particularly the sickeningly perky (but well-cast) Amy Adams as Mary. Writer-star Jason Segel makes a likeably dopy lead, whilst Chris Cooper is clearly having fun hamming it up as bad guy Tex Richmann, even though he's saddled with a spectacularly unfunny running joke ("maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh") which bombs every time.
Elsewhere there are probably a few too many cameos (many of which I didn't recognise) and the star names that do appear can't compete with the old shows, which were able to attract big names like Bob Hope, Sylvester Stallone and The Queen (OK, I may have dreamt that last one).
But who cares? The real stars of the show are The Muppets themselves and they prove to be just as daft, endearing, funny and loveable as ever. Full of life and character, it's them that give the film its heart, soul and sense of fun. In this age of super-polished CGI effects, it's credit to the puppeteers and voice artists that they can make a collection of felt, fur and ping pong balls so damn loveable.
Of course, with so many Muppets and relatively little time, some do get squeezed and the plot inevitably concentrates on some of the best known faces. New Muppet Walter is a bit of a nothing character, created mainly as a focal point for the narrative. However, if your favourite Muppets are the likes of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy or Gonzo then you'll lap this up. Elsewhere there are fun supporting turns from second tier Muppets like Animal, The Swedish Chef and Bunsen and Beaker (the latter used particularly brilliantly) that will keep most fans happy. Even where Muppets don't get much of a look in, it's still fun to spot them in group shots and see how many you can name.
If you're going to be ultra-picky, you could complain that the voices don't always sound right. None of the original voice actors return (no Frank Oz, for example) but for the most part they do a good job of imitating the famous voices. Where there are differences, they don't grate on the ear too much or ruin the character.
Given the rather slender concept and deeply predictable story arc, The Muppets is a little too long at 103 minutes (110 minutes if the pointless and deeply unfunny Toy Story short is shown before it) and it runs out of steam towards the end. Certainly if you take your little moppet to see The Muppets they are likely to be wriggling in their seat long before the inevitable song and dance conclusion.
It's not perfect and it's a long way from being the best ever Muppet movie, but this revamp is strong enough to give a real blast of nostalgia for those old enough to remember the original series, whilst opening up the possibility of giving the furry ones a whole new generation of fans. You'll come out of the cinema with a great big smile on your face and feel like dancing your way back to your car. And there's not many films could get me to admit to that.
Director: James Bobin
Running time: Approx. 103 minutes (110 with Pixar short)
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