Review: The Muppets (2011)

Over a decade since their last cinematic outing (the uneven Muppets From Space), The Muppets return to familiar territory with the aid of self-proclaimed enthusiast Jason Segel and director James Bobin. Using their absence as the central premise, what develops is a sweet story about reconciliation, friendship and love, with a hefty dose of the laughter and self-referential awareness that entirely encapsulates what makes The Muppets so special.

Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) is the world’s biggest Muppets fan. After being invited on a trip to Los Angeles with best friend Gary (Segel) and Gary’s dotinggirlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), Walter revels in the excitement of finally seeing his heroes in action. However, upon arrival, they find the famous studio in ruins, with wealthy oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) keen on bulldozing the entire lot. After explaining all to Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire), they band together to reunite The Muppets and save their collapsing heritage.

Rather than try to send The Muppets on a ludicrous adventure, co-writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller keep this new cinematic outing a low-key affair. Much of the running time is dedicated to the efforts Kermit, Walter, Gary and Mary go to to bring the whole gang back together, allowing new audiences to meet the eclectic array of characters and the old fans to revel in the nostalgic air that pervades the proceedings.

Though each of them have moved on and found new ventures in the years they’ve been apart (with Gonzo owning a toilet factory and Animal at an anger management facility), they’re soon back together doing what they know. This is where the film really shines and comes into its own, with their various exploits bringing laughter – much of it from Miss Piggy – and some truly inspired celebrity cameos. The Muppets themselves are never upstaged, with the voice actors on top form, as ever, keeping their charming array of characters front and centre.

Unfortunately, the second half feels slightly perfunctory compared to the highs achieved early on. Too much time is spent on Gary and Mary’s precarious side plot – to the point that it impinges on the enjoyability of the lengths the Muppets go to in order to save their studio. Though both Segel and Adams are well suited to the roles and do the best they can to make Gary and Mary as important as the Muppet characters, they simply aren’t, and they work much better when in the background. Honorable mention must be paid to Rashida Jones, who makes sure her portrayal of a money-obsessed TV exec pokes fun at the modern world’s obsession with cheap reality television.

Thankfully, The Muppets reigns supreme, mixing the right amount of emotion and laughter (and now, nostalgia) to keep audiences of all ages enthralled. While there may be a slight absence of hearty, laugh-out-loud moments (the trailers have overplayed most of the possibilities to death), there are more than enough gags, pop culture references and toe-tapping musical numbers (with the best penned by Flight of the Conchord’s Bret Mackenzie) to ensure that the film doesn’t come across as sickly sweet. It may be for all the family, but it’s first and foremost fun. Let’s hope there are more adventures to come.

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