This movie review will be as spoiler-free as possible. I waited in line for 4 hours in the Anaheim sun in August at D23 primarily because I wanted to see Kermit and Miss Piggy in person along with a couple minutes of advance movie footage of “The Muppets”. I stalked the Muppets on Twitter and Facebook for months to make sure I didn’t miss a chance at movie screening tickets, and confirmed them within a minute once they did go live. So do I love the Muppets? Uh, yeah. Did I have lofty expectations for “The Muppets”? Absolutely. Were my aspirations for this movie too high? Maybe… but even if it isn’t quite a masterpiece, I loved it all the same…
IT’S THE MUPPETS!!! For the first time in over a decade, the Muppets are back on the big screen in a full-length, classic-style movie. And thankfully, this movie revives the genuine feeling of the Muppets and wipes the bad memory of “Muppet Wizard of Oz” from my mind. “The Muppets” is filled with great moments, from the awe-inspiring entrance of Kermit to the climactic scene that will bring even the biggest manly-man to tears. If you can sit through this entire movie without it igniting a spark of love within you for The Muppets at several points, then you must be some sort of monstrous, soulless golem.
Time has passed not just for us since the Muppets were last prominent, but for the Muppets themselves, who have all gone their separate ways to wildly varying degrees of success. The events that led to Kermit distancing himself from Piggy and the rest of the Muppets slowly unfold, and the eventual revelation is heartfelt and emotional. All of your favorite characters are here (provided they’re not Robin or from Muppets Tonight), and they’re exactly as you remember them. And that is the true backbone of this movie–the sense of constancy that no matter how much time passes, the Muppets will still be there and they will still be the same and they will still be a family.
Several stories intertwine to form the plot, but the core story is that of the new Muppet, Walter, searching for his place in the world. Walter is sweet and hopeful, and it’s his love for the Muppets and belief that the world needs the optimistic laughter created by them that drives forward the events of the movie, leading to the resurgence of the Muppets. I was highly skeptical, but Walter turns out to be a welcome addition to the cast that I wouldn’t mind a permanent background character.
The evil oil baron, Tex Richman, is a perfect “pure evil” over-the-top villain and his maniacal laugh is the best I’ve ever heard. And like any good Disney movie, he has a song, which I guarantee is like no villain song ever. Loved this character, and thought he worked better than any other human character in the movie.
I won’t spoil the identity of the celebrity host, but he or she is an actor/actress that I usually loathe, whereas in this particular role I found them to be absolutely perfectly-suited to enrich the movie. Definitely my favorite role I’ve ever seen him or her in.
Also, perhaps the greatest and funniest scene of the entire movie involves an all-chicken performance (in clucks) of one of the most popular songs of the past year. You have to see it to believe it. Pure gold.
I’m going to rant a little bit here, so let me get this out of the way first: I vehemently disagree with the decision to cut almost every single one of the Muppets Tonight characters from this movie. I understand Muppets Tonight was a flop, but some of those characters like Sal Manilla and Johnny Fiama are great characters, and this was Disney’s chance to integrate them in with the “classic” characters right from the start. Would it have killed Disney to give cameos to Carl the Big Angry Bunny and Clifford? I don’t think so. It’s more than a little jarring to see Muppets that have become beloved main characters like Rizzo and Pepe relegated to 10-second cameos with one line of dialogue each. A whole generation grew up on movies featuring characters created or popularized by Muppets Tonight, Disney–ostracizing those characters entirely is going to alienate a lot of Muppet fans who grew up on the newer movies and Muppets Tonight and who weren’t watching the Muppet Show 30 years ago.
Considering he wrote the screenplay for this movie, it’s no surprise that Jason Segel (Gary) has way too much screen-time. Both he and Amy Adams (Mary) take too much time and focus away from the Muppets themselves, which is a shame since the movie delights when the Muppets are on-screen and only amuses slightly when the human characters take center stage. I understand that the relationship between Gary and Mary is meant to be a weird foil for the relationship between Kermit and Piggy, but the situation is so drastically different that I don’t feel that it works. Both Segel and Adams have songs in the late part of the movie which seem forced to me and which waste precious time that could’ve been filled by Muppets. While I appreciate the idea of Segel confronting his conflict through song, the question poses by the conflict isn’t really what his actual conflict was at all.
Since the last quarter of the movie is the Muppets putting on the first “Muppet Show” in over 30 years, it’s disappointing that time isn’t made to have even a few seconds of a Pigs in Space, Veterinarian’s Hospital, or other beloved recurring segment. If there was time for Amy Adams to sing about nothing in a diner, there was time for Doctor Bob to crack some bad jokes in Veterinarian’s Hospital or for the Swedish Chef to duel with the Lobster Banditos. As it’s in the trailer, it’s no spoiler that the Muppets do sing “The Rainbow Connection” in the movie. But it’s pretty disappointing the way it’s used as being more of an afterthought to be cut away from than as an actual poignant moment.
Also, there’s a recurring fart joke. Really.
Overall: If you’ve seen the TV spots for “The Muppets” that call it “The Best Movie of the Year”, you’ve been oversold on this movie. It’s not that good. As a reviewer, writing a review for a crucially-important Muppet movie and not scoring it as an “A++” based solely on the fact that it’s a Muppet movie may be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. But this movie has its share of flaws, and even as a Muppet fanatic I can’t overlook them. The screen-time available in the movie was not balanced as well as it should have been, and as a result we have too much time spent on human actors and not enough spent featuring Muppets. Jason Segel clearly has a passionate love for the Muppets, but that means he should stepped aside and given them the time that they needed for more of the cast to really shine. The heart and emotion missing from more recent productions like “Muppet Wizard of Oz” is back, but many great characters are not and I’m sure I won’t be the only one who misses them. There’s a lot of genuinely funny Muppet humor contained within, but also some low-brow material that Jim Henson would have never included that sticks out like a sore thumb. If you’ve seen the original Muppet movies and you still don’t care about the Muppets, this movie isn’t quite at their level and won’t do a thing to change your mind. But to anyone who has ever loved or even liked the Muppets, I give this movie the highest possible recommendation.