Those foam, fleece and fur made friendlies — the inimitable Muppets — have never gone out of vogue. Not after a smattering of movies and TV shows that seem to have lasted a millennium; not even after decades of countless spin-offs and merchandise tie-ins. But that didn’t stop co-writer/star Jason Segel from hooking the story of their latest big screen incarnation to a Blues Brothers “get the band back together” narrative device that paints the Muppets as over-the-hill relics from a rosier past. Forgotten celebs. Has-beens. Puff the Magic Dragons doomed to live in the shadows of nostalgia.
Animal is in anger management class. Miss Piggy is the editor of a Paris fashion mag. Gonzo is a toilet entrepreneur. And Kermit is still sweet ol’ Kermit, our urbanized Caribbean amphibian, literally strolling the corridors of his past, remembering the gang as they were: an eclectic menagerie of hand-operated happy-makers. The ever-sensible green fella is driven to track down and recruit the ol’ gang when news c/o new Muppet Walter and his human brother Gary (Segel) arrives that a nefarious oil conglomerate (Chris Cooper) is planning on destroying the decrepit Muppet Studios-cum-Museum (time has passed rather quickly in this universe) unless 10 million bucks can be raised quick-smart.
The answer? A benefit concert stuffed full of acts, of course, which features a brood of Muppet chickens clucking their way through a cover of Cee Lo Green’s Fuck You (in a delicious touch, they cluck the censored version), alone worth the price of admission. But one doesn’t have to warm the seat long to get a good return on The Muppets Movie, a delightfully retrograde romp simultaneously self-aware and fitted-out with post-mod flourishes. If the Muppets need to travel, they travel by map montage, and they’re more than happy to introduce it as such.
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Smile-stretching from the gorgeous, campy opening number Life’s a Happy Song, fans of Flight of the Conchords will likely feel a tingle of familiarity, and for good reason. Conchords writer/director James Bobin is the film’s director, bringing on board Conchordian Bret McKenzie as a composer/collaborator for the many music numbers. Hiring Bobin, a feature film debutante, was a chancy move that turned out ingenious — and the fruits of that decision are tasted throughout. The Muppet Movie’s high-water mark, Am I A Muppet or a Man, is already cemented in the pavement of movie musical glory walk.
The songs, matched with a bendy well-paced plot and earnest to goodness performances, combine to form a level of enjoyment that moves beyond knee-slappin’ lafs-n-giggles into the realm of giddy, anachronistic, ageless wonder, these simple bundles of material evoking the kind of soul nourishing expression they — in a world of science, where human hands literally reach up their behinds — ought to have no claim to. Ignore the thankless Amy Adams music number, shoehorned in for contractual reasons (one can assume), forgive the over indulgence of Jack Black (one of many cameos) and don’t expect storytelling innovation. But settle down for something wondrous, and wondrously artificial — an hour and a half of proof that the Dream Factory can still squeeze out more than one happy song to sing along.
The Muppets Movie’s Australian theatrical release date: January 12, 2012.