If the thought of seeing Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the Great Gonzo re-create the opening theme from The Muppet Show in front of your very eyes doesn't immediately send you into a fit of nostalgic, heart-swelling joy, then you are one of the many curmudgeons who'll most likely be avoiding The Muppets when it comes out. Or you may be Frank Oz.
The Dirty Rotten Scoundrels director has been one of many disgruntled former Muppet employees (he is the man who first had his hand inside Miss Piggy) who've been griping in print interviews lately about how this Disney-approved reboot of the Muppet franchise doesn't respect the characters.
After sitting through the 98 minutes this movie offers up, I can honestly say this flick does everything it possibly can to do right by these still-adorable-after-all-these-years creatures. This movie may be the work of a group of outsiders, but they're outsiders who love the hell out of these damn puppets.
The outsiders in question—writers Jason Segel (that puppet-crazy Apatow regular) and Nicholas Stoller (his Forgetting Sarah Marshall collaborator) and director James Bobin (HBO's Flight of the Conchords)—take a page from the Superman Returns handbook and delete the more recent, less-than-successful Muppet-movie installments from the Muppets history (Muppets From Space, anyone?), making it look like the gang hasn't done anything together since Kermit and Piggy were bound in holy matrimony at the end of The Muppets Take Manhattan.
Yeah, that didn't turn out so well, as Miss Piggy left Kermit for the city lights of Paris to become an editor for French Vogue and Kermit was left alone in a mansion full of memories. But when he learns that an evil businessman (Chris Cooper, shockingly hamming it up) wants to tear down the long-abandoned Muppet Studios to get the oil underneath, that frog springs back into action, rounding up the old crew to put on a telethon at the Muppet Theater and get the $10 million needed to keep the studio open.
The movie continues in that signature narrative style of past Muppet movies, giving audiences a good-natured mix of over-the-top slapstick, always-winking meta-humor, perky musical numbers and heartwarming sweetness. Of course, the movie is also swamped with cameos: Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and, for some reason, Judd Hirsch are just a few of the famous faces who pop up and goof off.
Segel and company work so hard at making the Muppets look good as characters that he doesn't bother to make his own character look multidimensional. In fact, he and the usually solid Amy Adams, playing a small-town couple that helps the Muppets with their endeavor (along with Segel's hardcore-fan brother, the Muppet-looking Walter), are the weakest link, acting less human than the damn Muppets.
Thankfully, it's the Muppets themselves who keep the movie from looking phony and soulless. One of the fascinating things about them is how they aren't just one-note characters. They're fully realized beings, perfectly able to convey emotions. Yeah, Kermit may be the self-assured ringleader, but he also can be emotionally distant at times. Piggy's conceited-diva act is mostly a smokescreen to hide her insecurities. The same goes for Fozzie, the very model of a desperately needy comedian. Hell, even monosyllabic drummer Animal is just a dude looking for some inner peace.
If anything, The Muppets succeeds in reminding us why audiences both young and old adored these talking pieces of felt in the first place: They were the first icons of family entertainment to keep it real.