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.