Kicking the Tweets

Entries in Muppets/The [2011] (1)


The Muppets (2011)

Suck Puppets

Fans of Eminem know that each of his recent albums begins with roughly five tracks boasting about how the controversial rap artist is "back". He screams and spits his way through song after song, boasting that the world--try as it might--can't render him irrelevant. Once that's out of his system, he moves on to original material. The Muppets is like that, minus the moving on part.

What kind of a monster would give a bad review to a Muppet movie? Full disclosure: Aside from the Muppet Babies cartoon show, I never found Jim Henson's singing, dancing, mischief-making puppets amusing. The idea of the characters, I thought, was often far funnier than actually watching them do anything. Gonzo's first cannonball gag was cute; the ninetieth--not so much. Who doesn't love a Swedish Chef with a funny, inscrutable accent? I sure did, for a minute--but his sketches lasted three.

Keep in mind, this isn't Adult Me complaining; I hated Muppets as a kid. When my babysitter set me down in front of the TV and put on their variety show, I spent half the episode wondering what I was being punished for.

Jason Segel doesn't hate Muppets. The movie/sitcom star reportedly has an impressive collection in his house. He's so devoted to the cuddly misfits that he co-wrote their latest movie with Nicholas Stoller. Therein lies the problem: The Muppets is a full-on nostalgia trip that bombards the audience with constant declarations of how awesome Muppets are and how big a deal they were thirty years ago--without bothering to give them new adventures or schtick as proof of their durability. Segel and Stoller are like the great uncle who desperately want to convince you that Buffalo Springfield are just as hip as Lady Gaga.

So, what's the new movie about? The Muppets--separated by years and geography--must reunite and put on a show to save their old theatre from slipping into the hands of an evil businessman. You may call this a "classic" Muppet plot. I call it the same Muppet plot from It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and a not-so-distant cousin of The Muppets Take Manhattan. Sure, the writers throw a curveball in the form of new character, Walter (Peter Linz), but his most interesting characteristic is how uninspired-looking he is (even the silliest, most generic Muppet, to this point, has had some definable trait; Walter looks like a yellow sock with ping-pong balls sewn into the heel that's been dragged around a merkin factory floor). Aside from the fact that hasn't previously appeared on a toothbrush or lunch box, Walter's defining attribute is his insecurity, which (SPOILER!), he overcomes during the Big, Climactic Musical Number.

Lest you think I'm being overly critical of a children's movie, I'd like to point out that this film was not made for children. It was made for their middle-aged, hipster parents who bark and clap like seals whenever someone references something from the old TV show, or when The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons makes a cameo. Remember that "hilarious" Muppet song, "Ma Na Ma Na"? Segel and Stoller sure do, and they get Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, and Alan Arkin to dance to it (I'm getting bored just typing this). Kids will probably love The Muppets, but they loved Shrek Forever After and Cars 2, too.

Speaking of Cars 2, did you know that it was recently released on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack? In case you forgot, or weren't aware, watch out for the giant banner hanging up outside the Muppet Theatre at the end. Oh, and don't forget that Pixar is owned by Disney. It'd slipped my mind for a second; fortunately, the fireworks display that closes the film begins with a giant triple-burst, which forms the shape of Mickey Mouse's head. Ah, the magic of childhood!**

I might have been okay with The Muppets had it made any sense, but it's very clear that Segel, Stoller, and director James Bobin aren't interested in making a classic; they're writing a ninety-minute love-letter to their childhoods (like, most love letters, this one's badly written and sure to be an embarrassment in ten years). The idea that The Muppets have fallen off the pop-cultural radar is ridiculous on its face. This is the sixth Muppet movie in the last nineteen years, so opening with a story in which the world has forgotten about them is a bit of a stretch. We also don't find out what caused them to break up in the first place (or, honestly, the nineteenth or twentieth place), so if you have half a functioning brain, you may spend most of the picture waiting for it to explain itself.

Personally, I want an explanation of what Amy Adams is doing in this film--besides the obvious, which is standing in a corner and looking like she's tired of smiling. Maybe she's stuck in a multi-picture contract with Disney; maybe she's making a movie her kids can enjoy. Whatever the case, she and Segel, who co-stars as her character's clueless-about-romance-and-big-city-livin' boyfriend, are relegated to admiring-fan status; they're mile markers to help distract the audience from the fact that they paid ten bucks a head to watch felt scraps bop along to Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City".

And Chris Cooper--Oh, my God! I smiled when he showed up as evil billionaire Tex Richman. But by the time he started rapping, I'd erased half his filmography from my brain.

I know, I know. Scrooge has come early this year, kids. Old Mr. Grumpypants doesn't get the enduring power and magic of the Muppets. That may be true. But after the movie's over, ask yourself whether or not you're likely to ever watch The Muppets again. Putting it on for your kids while you do dishes doesn't count. Ask yourself, as a huge Muppet fan, if in your leisure time you'd prefer to watch this or The Great Muppet Caper. If you're honest with yourself, you may find that one movie is a steamy plate of barbecue and the other is a McRib commercial (which, like Eminem and the Muppets, is also "back").

Update! I completely forgot about the one good thing about seeing The Muppets in the theatre: the new Toy Story short! Those Pixar pixies cast another spell on me with a cute and hilarious five-minute adventure in which Buzz is replaced by the Happy Meal-toy version of him. There's more heart, character, and surprise here than in the feature it precedes. Sad, really.

*I saw this happen: the guy sitting in front of me, who was enjoying a night out with his similarly-geek-chic-clad friends, laughed and shook uncontrollably when Parsons came appeared, even pointing at the screen and nudging the poor fool next to him. You should know that Parsons didn't actually do anything funny, other than be Jim Parsons. Still, Mr. Daytime Barista carried on in the same way as the five-year-old girl behind me did when Fozzie Bear broke out his new Fart Shoes. Yep, you read that right.

**Trademark and Copyright 2011, Walt Disney Pictures, Inc.