"Nobody cares about you anymore. Nobody cares about your hippie dippie Dom DeLuise and Julie Andrews hosts."
Coming in at number five on my list of the best films of 2011 is a film that I've been waiting my whole life for, The Muppets. The only Muppet movie I had seen in the theater until this was released was The Muppets Take Manahattan when I was six years old, and I had been a fan my entire life, just waiting for the chance to see some of my childhood heroes take back the big screen. The Muppet movies of the 1990s were decent, but I had never felt compelled to go see any of them in the theater. Now, with kids of my own, I couldn't wait for this to come out, and when I got to see an advanced screening of it two weeks prior to its theatrical release, I jumped at the chance to take Clementine to her first Muppet movie. We went back and saw it all together as a family a few weeks ago, and it just confirmed how magical the Muppets truly are.
Actor & writer Jason Segel has harbored a life-long obsession with the Muppets as well, and after his 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall featured some Muppet-inspired puppetry, he was able to parlay that love into a job writing the next Muppets movie. The original title of the film was The Greatest Muppets Movie Ever, and while I do enjoy hyperbole, I'm glad they just called it The Muppets as it doesn't unnecessarily inflate your expectations going in. The film opens with the story of Gary (Segel) and Walter (a new muppet character, performed and voiced by Peter Linz) a pair of life-long friends (or possibly brothers, the script gives mixed signals as to whether or not they're related) who have loved The Muppets their entire lives. Walter in particular loves them as they represent him in a society where he's always felt like he didn't truly belong. Gary and his fiancee Mary (the wonderful Amy Adams) are taking a trip to Los Angeles, and Gary invites Walter to come along so he can see The Muppet Studios in person.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, they discover that not only have the Muppets disbanded, but a wealthy oil tycoon named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, brilliant as always) has purchased the studio because there's apparently oil underneath the theater. There is a clause that states that if the Muppets can raise ten million dollars by midnight on a certain, fast approaching date, they retain the rights to the studio and their name. Walter, Gary and Mary leap into action, recruiting Kermit for help in solving the problem. Kermit thinks it's pretty hopeless, but if they were to get the whole gang back together and put on a show, then maybe, just maybe, they can raise the money they need to save their legacy.
They begin a road trip to round up the old gang, the details of which I'll save for those who haven't seen it yet, but it keeps beautifully in the style of the old films (I particularly liked the snide, tongue-in-cheek reference to critics of the new film's humor through Gonzo's new vocation). Once the gang is reassembled (and all your favorites are there, rest assured, they left no one out), they set about the business of getting together a telethon, provided they can find a celebrity host and get the theater in order in 48 hours. Most of the last half of the film is the show itself, and the film truly delivers for Muppet fans as it manages to encapsulate everything you love about the Muppets from their movies to their tv shows. It's a top-to-bottom lovingly done film that will have the true believers dancing for joy and thrilled to see their childhood heroes be treated with the love and care that many properties from their childhood have not gotten.
The film is loaded with cameos, as to be expected, although I would loved to have seen Steve Martin as I've always associated him with the Muppets, but the wide array of cameos they pull-off are great. The script was written by Segel and his writing collaborator Nicholas Stoller have delivered a gift to the parents of today, and director James Bobin, who honed his skills on HBO's Flight of the Conchords directs with the loving attention to detail that can be expected from another true fan. The songs in the film were written by Bret McKenzie, one half of the aforementioned Conchords, and they are sublime. The opening number "Life's a Happy Song," is as clever and winking an opening number as you could hope for, and his Oscar-nominated "Man or Muppet" is fantastic as well.
I won't spoil how it all shakes out, but the theme of the film is believing in yourself, and staying true to who you are, something I touched upon in my review of Happy Feet, and it's truly one of the best lessons a parent can teach a child, or a Muppet for that matter. I am appalled by the number of people who felt that the film somehow dishonored the true spirit of the Muppets by adding "one" fart joke, or having Kermit living in a mansion, but these are low blows, and anyone who thinks that this film was made by anyone other than people with the Muppets' best intentions in mind is a fool. It makes perfect sense that Kermit lives in a mansion because it wasn't his idea to have a mansion. Clearly he was forced to live there by Miss Piggy, no stranger to excess, and when she left, he couldn't bring himself to go because he still carried the torch for her. Also, just to quickly address the controversial addition of Cee-Lo Green's song, it is used brilliantly, and anyone unfamiliar with the song, like kids, will never know it's being used, but the adults familiar with the song will get a kick out of it.
Believe me when I tell you that this is the feel-good movie of the year. That phrase gets bandied about so much, but this is the real deal. You cannot leave the theater with anything but a beaming, glowing inner-child, and maybe one or two by your side. It's everything you're hoping it will be and more. Go see it, bring your children, and if you don't have any, bring your inner-child. They'll thank you for it.
I'll be back tomorrow with Martin Scorsese's 3D love letter to the silent film era, Hugo.