It would have been easy to make a new version of The Muppets that relied solely on nostalgia. Just having Kermit and the gang show up to sing some songs would have been fun, but cowriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller have done so much more than that. With a story that appeals to a new generation while still summoning up the magic of the classic characters, they've revived the franchise and created a funny, emotionally rich movie. The film follows Segel as Gary, a sweet everyman taking his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and brother Walter (who happens to be a Muppet) on vacation to Los Angeles. Walter and Gary are huge Muppets fans, so they visit the old theater in LA, but they discover that it's a decrepit structure that's about to get torn down by nefarious oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper).
Walter and Gary want to warn the Muppets about Richman, but there's one big problem: the gang has split up, which means Gary and Walter have to track them down. Things get really fun as we're re-introduced to the Muppets in their new lives; some have important careers, some are down and out, some are in therapy. It's a clever way of bringing the characters up to date while also acknowledging that the Muppets aren't as popular as they once were. That kind of self-awareness is pervasive and very funny, and with so much humor and a ton of celebrity cameos, The Muppets is a wonderfully sweet comedy that's both loyal to Jim Henson's original intent and updated for modern audiences. To find out why I loved The Muppets, just keep reading.
Segel's character Gary takes a backseat once the Muppets start rolling in, but it's a role that's supporting in every sense of the word. The actor's excitement is infectious, and his affection for the Muppets comes through so clearly. As screenwriters, it's evident that Segel and Stoller have taken care to reacquaint the world with the Muppets in the right way; the humor is lighthearted but supremely witty, and fit for all audiences.
The music of the Muppets is the heart of the film, and another reflection of how the film marries the old and the new. There are plenty of familiar tunes, like "The Rainbow Connection," but the handful of new songs, courtesy of Flight of the Conchords's Bret McKenzie, fit right in, and capture the playful essence of the Muppets (trust me, you'll have the opening number stuck in your head for weeks after seeing the movie). The musical interludes also give star Segel a chance to sing and dance, which is an endearing departure for the actor.
This is a movie that's simply hard to watch without a big smile on your face; if it's not the upbeat dance numbers, then Fozzie Bear is making you laugh, or Kermit is saying something so sweet and genuine that your heart swells. The Muppets proves to us old fans that we haven't outgrown them at all — we just needed a reminder of why we loved them so much in the first place.
Photo courtesy of Disney