Monday, March 26, 2012

The Muppets

The Muppets is another peg on the still-growing list of resurrected pop entertainments from the analog era. But unlike many of these reflexively timid works, it grasps the ethos of its origins. As many fans of The Muppets surely know, Jim Henson’s famed puppet troupe was always keenly aware of its place in the larger world. It parodied famous figures and current events and enmeshed them with an absurd but playful benevolence. Perhaps recognizing this as prime material for nostalgic re-embedding, writers Jason Segel and Nick Stoller make full use of the built-in elements to spin a loving tribute to the The Muppets. Segel stars along with Amy Adams, who together search for Kermit with the hope of reuniting the clan to save the famed Muppet Theater from destruction. Along the way toward rehabilitating the theater and staging a fund-raising telethon, Segel and the muppets strike up a handful of perky musical numbers—which are as joyous as they are random—inspired by everything from Broadway musicals to jaunty 80’s tunes such as Starship’s gloriously awful “We Built This City.”

The easy-going innocence of The Muppets is an endearing quality, which, coupled with a self-awareness of its own conventions, makes for a rare nostalgia trip well worth the indulgence. The film has some problems, but nothing that threatens to derail its smooth offerings. For example, the emphasis on Segel's character and his muppet brother Walter, while charming initially, becomes a bit jarring as the story takes shape; after all, the muppets are what we really want to see. But forgiving this and other minor blemishes (such as some of the voices and characterizations being slightly off-kilter) becomes much easier once the gang is back together and dancing across the famous archways.

Despite not hitting every note, The Muppets more importantly serves up an abundance of wit, absurdity, and delight on its way to delivering one last send-off for these beloved characters. Where so many other long-awaited resurrections of pop-culture’s past try too hard to recreate old wonder, The Muppets makes the difficult task of capturing the source material’s spirit look easy. (James Bobin, 2011) ***

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