The Muppets! (NOT Breaking Dawn, sorry, just couldn’t do it.) A tiny theater in Alpine, Texas with my family on Thanksgiving weekend surrounded by small children and parents—both the best and the worst setting for this Muppets revival. Judging by the near silence of the children and the occasional laughter of the adults in the theater, this movie is more about self-referential humor and cameos than delivering a solid story. There were many delightful and hilarious moments in the film, don’t get me wrong, but it could not quite decide which generation was meant to be “in” on the joke.
The movie begins in Smalltownville with brothers Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a muppet). Walter feels a bit out of place and becomes obsessed with Muppets reruns. The brothers live together as adults even though Gary is in a ten-year-long relationship with Mary (Amy Adams). Gary wants to take Mary to Los Angeles to celebrate their anniversary and decides to bring Walter along so that they can all visit the Muppet studios together. The studios, however, have fallen into disrepair and wealthy, evil businessman Tex Richman (delightfully played by Chris Cooper) wants to tear down the studio to drill for oil. This revelation sparks the Smalltownvillers to save the studios by finding Kermit and reuniting the group for a money-raising telethon.
The film spends a bit too much time dealing with the emotional scars of Kermit, Fozzy, Miss Piggy, and the rest. The original Muppet Movie (1979) had moments of sadness and moments of tenderness, but they never attempted to provide sweeping criticism of the country’s cultural climate the way they do here. It is as if the Muppets believe their lack of popularity (heavily referenced in the film) signals the moral decline of the country (embodied by the sinister imitation group the Moopets). Let’s get to the laughs already! Also, far too much time was spent resolving the relationship difficulties between Gary and Mary and Kermit and Miss Piggy. One would think that, being puppets, the writers would not expect us to take their reconciliation very seriously. Wrong. We have to wade through quite the emotional quagmire with these two and none of it is nearly as delightful as Kermit singing the blues with Grover in 1979.
Gary and Mary’s relationship as well as Walter’s sense of self were given far too much airtime considering our lack of history or connection with these characters. However the song “Am I A Man or A Muppet?” in which Gary and Walter reach self-awareness is delightful enough to make up for much of the unnecessary drama.
Tex Richman’s song about being fabulously wealthy was also very fun, as were pretty much all the other song and dance numbers (barbershop quartet!). The one time I heard someone in the theater under the age of 18 sound appreciative was when the chickens performed Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You.” “Oh! This Song!” yelped the tiny one with glee as her mother sat, uncomprehending. On the opposite side of the age spectrum, my parents’ main moments of enjoyment were when Richman quoted The Economist and when Kermit tried to call President Carter to be a celebrity guest. Most of the other jokes and cameos needed to be explained. The movie’s difficult generational straddling does not, however, detract much from the moments we do get (and as the current focus group for most media, college students will understand most of the humor). Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Feist, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, and James Carville (just to name a few) made for some fantastic celebrity moments that really brought back the spirit of the seventies versions. Also, Eighties Robot completely stole the show and my heart.
In conclusion, see this movie! But brush up on your pop-culture knowledge and rewatch The Muppets Movie first!