At the Movies: The Muppets

I think I saw a grand total of three new movies (lots of older revivals showings, though) in theaters in 2011. Saw Thor twice, Captain America, and then there were two movies I really wanted to see recently. Mission: Impossible 4 is bewilderingly well reviewed, and I liked the previous ones. Then there was The Muppets. I actually almost saw it when my brother was in town with his family, but the one showing was sold out.

So this weekend I actually got off my ass and headed to the local multiplex. Sadly, The Muppets was only playing on two weekend matinees at this point, so I went with that one while I still could.

Loved it. I’m sure I’m not the only one here who has fond memories of yhe Muppets. Their first movie was tremendously good (although I didn’t love any of the subsequent ones), with a really sly sense of humor, a parade of fun star cameos, and a slate of truly fine songs written by Paul Williams. Really, some of the best movie songs of the last forty years, although that’s sadly not saying much.

Rainbow Connection has become sort of a modern standard, really, and Movin’ Right Along and the underappreciated I Hope That Something Better Comes Along is the rare attempt to do Cole Porterish whimsey that pulls it off: “You can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em. / There’s somethin’ irresistabullish about ’em.” That line still fills me with delight.

The Muppets (the new movie) is quite evidently a love letter from, er, the big guy from How I Met Your Mother, the one married to the Buffy witch. The film opens with a really terrific old-fashioned movie musical number. The guy ain’t no Gene Kelly (who would be?), but he acquaints himself well as a song and dance man, maybe a Bobby Van level talent.

I miss musicals, which for some reason now generally repulse audiences, and I think I finally figured out why. Musicals more than any other genre were uniquely suited to communicate pure joy. Sadly,  I think in the age of sarcasm and irony, the idea that watching a movie should fill you with something as unadulterated and primal as joy is just too uncool. Even so, this musical number probably pleased me more fully than anything I’ve seen in live action musical since, oh, say Little Shop of Horrors. And that was a long time ago.

The new people voicing the Muppets (I guess Frank Oz has retired? Too bad.) are pretty close, and generally suggested the old guys as well as you can expect. The film is really fun, and like the Muppet movies of old, has a lot of cameos, although you can’ really fault them for not having the likes of Bob Hope or Orson Welles anymore. (Sarah Silverman, though? In a kid’s movie?) A few of the cameos are really very funny, though, especially one occurring during a musical number.

Anyway, I don’t know if this will even be in theaters next weekend, but if it is, strongest recommendations. Take some kids to see it. The only down note: The film is partly predicated on the dilemma of whether the Muppets are still ‘relevant’ in today’s world. Sadly, given the anemic box office for this delightful, well-reviewed movie, the answer may be  no. It’s a great little picture, though.

  • Rock Baker

    My favorite was Muppet Treasure Island. And weirdly, its the only one I have a copy of since I was able to tape it off one of the movie channels back when. Thanks to my local stations, my childhood was also served weekly doses of The Muppet Show (I had no idea at the time that the shows were re-runs). (Saturday mornings also gave me Muppet Babies, which I watched mostly to see the parade of stock footage from old monster movies!) Eventually, I plan to stock my library with the other Muppet features. I’m no dummy.

  • KeithB

    I really liked the Muppet Christmas Carol, and is one of my favorite versions of that film.

    I thought the new muppet film was pretty good, but wasn’t that pleased with the script.  Wikipedia says that Frank Oz was going to direct, but did not like the script.  (Maybe just because of the fart shoes.)

  • Marsden

    I really like this one, I’ve only seen about 4 movies in theaters all year but I’m happy I went to see this one, although I have to admit I would have waited until it was on dvd if it wasn’t for a birthday party at the movies my daughter was invited to.   But when they said we were watching the Muppets I jumped on it.   I just thought the plot was not very good, I still give the movie about 4 1/2 out of 5 but the “saving the theater from a business man that wants to drill for oil” routine is as overdone as the “military superweapon that is in no way useful” so many movies trot out.  I’m sure if the land was contracted they could have used the money from the oil to build a new theater that didn’t have a hole in the roof.  But I don’t go to a movie to watch a singing frog puppet because I’m concerned about logic, and everything was done well.  I particularly like what you mentioned, Ken, how Seigel isn ‘t a dancer but he isn’t made to be, it’s really noticeable in the first number but it doesn’t detract from it. Amy Adams is good, the new Muppet, Walter, is good, and all the old ones are back. And it’s really them, too.  There isn’t a “newer, grittier and more realistic” Kermit that shoots people and a Fozzie drug dealer.

  • Anonymous

    The concept of the Evil Oilman is obviously pretty tired, but the execution of this exact example was extremely fun. And let’s admit it, other than somebody trying to catch the Muppets and put them in a zoo or something, a scheming businessman is pretty much your default villain of choice for this sort of thing, as with Charles Durning in the original Muppet Movie.

    That said, Chris Cooper is a LOT of fun as Tex Richman, and that name is so onpoint it pretty much functions as a parody of the trope rather than another example of it. I’m not sure whose idea it was to make Richman so stiff that he actually *says* “Maniacal Laugh!” rather than give one, but *that’s* funny.

    Also, the Bear Muppet that’s his henchman is awesome.

  • Marsden

    You’re right, Ken.  I detest rap, but that little rap he did in his office with the bouncing dollar sign over the words was great!  I really like that bear, he was good working for Jeffrey Tambor in Muppets from space.  I thought the maniacal laugh was funny, too, but I also thought it was part of the whole “meta” of the movie, which was basically acknowleging that it was a movie.  Sometimes that’s really bad but I thought it was very well done in this one. Especially when Amy Adams said to Kermit when he first decided to try to get them all back together, something like “if you didn’t say yes it would have been a really short movie”  The crowd I was with burst out laughing at that, I did, too.

  • Anonymous

    We took the boys in early December and had a great time, even the fidgety child was able to sit still and enjoy it. Of course my guys are pretty familiar with the Muppets through the DVDs, still it inspired us to track down a copy of the original Muppet Movie. I am really sorry it didn’t perform better as I was hoping for a possible TV revival. Of course, given the disaster that was Muppets Tonight, maybe it’s better to just stick with what we had.

  • Anonymous

    OhOhOh! And it gave a major part to Uncle Deadly, one of this monster kid’s favorite Muppets ever!

    Favorite Deadly moment – At the door of the creepy castle, discussing Vincent Price’s Jeckylesque mad scientist: “Tonight’s New Year’s Eve. Tonight he becomes … Guy Lombardo!” Cue Auld Lang Syne.

  • Rock Baker

    A classic episode. I still find myself thinking of The Wampire Veekly at the oddest times!

  • Rock Baker

    He was also “The Phantom of The Muppet Show!” That one was a scream!

  • Sadly, I think in the age of sarcasm and irony, the idea that watching a movie should fill you with something as unadulterated and primal as joy is just too uncool.

    I thought it was simpler than that: the big fat flops that helped to kill the studio system back in the day more often than not WERE musicals (Dr. Doolittle, Star!, Paint Your Wagon, et al). Studios have long memories and (rants about depraved Hollywood liberality aside) are basically conservative when it comes to box-office.

  • Anonymous

    Well, for projects they don’t care about, sure, but they pumped out clunker after clunker about the Iraq war and didn’t seem to care that nobody was interested.

  • Anonymous

    I had almost forgotten that one, another great episode!

  • The Rev.

    Oh, that bear’s back?  Great!  I am hoping to finally see this this coming weekend.  I recently caught Muppets in Space and while I could’ve used more Pepe, that bear and Tambor were a hoot.

  • Beckoning Chasm

    Is the robot driving the car a Muppet?

  • Rock Baker

    Also, despite the HUGE profits for the few recent Biblical epics that have hit screens in the last couple of decades, no studio boss has ordered a dozen knock-offs to cash in. Ideology trumps coin today, or else they’d be making smaller films designed for larger demographics. 

  • Rock Baker

    The cameos must be pretty special, because I saw the preview for this and I discovered that I didn’t recognize a single human being on display! I’ve been out of the loop long enough that I don’t know anyone in the current crop. When I heard there was a new Muppet movie, my first thought was that someone like Steve Martin would star. I’d still bet Steve would be more widely known, or am I even farther out of the loop than I thought?

  • Heli

    It is; it’s “80’s Robot,” and he was totally awesome.

    I am quite disappointed by the lack of tie in merchandising featuring him.

  • Heli

    I understand from people who have read the novelization that the concept was that Tex Richman was physically incapable of laughing for some reason, and so wanted to destroy the Muppets because they made people laugh.  I think I recall hearing that he was made fun of as a kid, possibly in a Muppet-related incident, but I don’t know for sure, as I haven’t read the novel.  Anyway, that doesn’t come across in the movie, but it’s an interesting motivation.  I wish they’d thrown in a couple of lines of dialogue to explain that.

    Also, SPOILER WARNING at the end of the movie, after his incident, he is shown laughing, and then he’s a good guy.  So apparently Gonzo accidentally cured him of whatever.