Movie Review: “The Muppets”

Written by Nick Workman November 30, 2011

The Muppets dive deep into childhood nostalgia.

The term “children’s film for adults” is a term that often is applied to a certain kind of film that is able to maintain an equal balance of cuteness and whimsy while still maintaining a level of adult humor and themes. This does not mean that the adult humor is at its most vulgar, nor is the adult themes that are covered the most adult. Instead, the humor and themes act as guides for the adult so that they are not put off and can on some level relate to the film.

The best example in recent years of the new wave of children’s films for adults would be the Pixar films. No films are able to capture the themes that adults face every day, such as what it might be like to lose one’s child, all while maintaining a child’s magical outlook and humor in the world, such as when a fish believes it can speak whale. James Bobin’s (The Flight of the Conchords) take on the Muppet franchise in his 2011 film The Muppets is not like the Pixar children’s film for adults. The film differs from the Pixar films because it is attempting to capture nostalgia of childhood for the adults that grew up with the Muppets. On some levels Bobin succeeds with his charming, self-aware film, but on other levels he fails since it can be hard to create a nostalgia film while attempting to draw in a new and unfamiliar audience.

The film follows two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (Peter Linz), and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) as they go on vacation to LA. Walter believes the trip is solely to see the Muppet Studio, whereas Gary and Mary simply want to have a romantic getaway. At this point it should be mentioned that Gary is a human and Walter is a puppet who hopes to someday become a Muppet. When the three get to the Muppet studio, they find it abandoned and about to be torn down by Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). The only way to save the studio and the Muppets’ legacy is by throwing a good, old fashioned show to raise the money and buy back the studio. Who stars in the show? Well, of course, none other than the whole Muppets gang.

The premise of let’s get the gang back together and save the so-and-so is a premise that extends way before the Muppets ever existed, and it is a premise that is still very much used today, although sometimes in a much more comedic way, as it was in recent years when South Park parodied various 80’s films that used that premise in their episode Asspen. It is a premise that could have easily failed here, but it works very well, and that is mostly because it is relying on the nostalgia of the Muppets. After all, the basis of The Muppet Show was putting on a show.

Nostalgia is the main thing going for the film, and the writers know this. They are smart enough to allow the Muppets to be self-aware of what they are doing, which is a throwback to what the Muppets are about, because after all, they are not the typical childhood puppet. The Muppets are instead feisty, have a wicked sense of humor, are not afraid to result in slapstick, and are self-aware of the situations they are involved in. It is on this level that The Muppets succeeds because it is able to harness what the Muppets were originally about while still being able to present it as if it were fresh.

The main downside to a film that relies off of nostalgia is when it attempts to bring in a new audience. Part of the premise of this film is bringing the Muppets to a new generation, a much younger one, who should hopefully feel as much charm for the Muppets as their parents did. The problem is that a lot of the humor and charm that the Muppets has going for it has to either be spelt out for its new audience or has to neglect its new audience in favor of its much older audience. When Kermit is singing a song about all his friends and where they have gone, he sings why they were so important to him and what they were about, such as Fozzie Bear telling bad jokes. For the adult audience they will think back to how those jokes were bad, but that only serves to bring back a warmness to the heart. For the new child in the audience, they would not know who Fozzie is, nor that he tells bad joke. The reference goes over the child’s head, even when explained. For the most part this does not slow down the movie nor take anything away from it, at least for its adult audience. For the new child in the audience though, I feel that there might not be enough here for them to get the feeling that the film is trying to convey. Sitting in the audience, I didn’t hear many children laughing, with the most excitement coming from a child who saw a billboard in the background for Cars 2.

The film is a wonderful homage to the Muppets and what they meant for a certain generation. It does a wonderful job in capturing that feeling. Where is starts to fail is when it attempts to bring in a new audience with new puppets or references that will not be remembered a year from now be either adult of child generation, such as when the chickens do a clucking version of Cee-Lo’s Forget You. That is not to say that all attempts at bringing in a new generation fail or that all nostalgia succeeds. The new songs, written by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords, are a high for this film. The celebrity cameos that the Muppets are famous for are for the most part a letdown, with either the celebrity not having a single line of dialogue or the celebrity having to constantly remind the audience who they are because we just don’t care to remember.

The Muppets were not gone that long, but this film does a wonderful job of capturing and reminding its audience that a certain generation of the Muppets is gone, the early days, and that it is OK to miss them and to at least to attempt to share why they were important with a new generation.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Nick Workman

Nick Workman: Co-host of Nerd Alert, editor of news, writer of reviews, and lover of all that involves imagination. If he is not on his computer working on We Eat Films or Nerd Alert, you can probably find him in a big comfy chair, sipping a cup of coffee, with his nose deep in a book.

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