My first experience of Jim Henson’s Muppets was in one of my favourite films of all time: Muppet Treasure Island (1996), it blew me away with its comedy, its music, its characters, and if I’m honest I had a rather strong crush on the young Kevin Bishop. Don’t judge me! I was 8 years old! The way this old legend of a story could be transformed was amazing and I kept the children’s book and accompanying cassette tape (yes it was that long ago!) close by me and would try desperately to reach that young boys high notes.
After that my parents introduced me to The Muppet Show (1976-1981), I found The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) to be utterly superb and it became a tradition for me to watch it every Christmas (and some summers just because) alongside A Muppets Family Christmas (1987) which included Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. Who couldn’t be a fan after that!
Although the Muppets tended to be funny in most everything they did, I found (and have continued to find) that the movies when solely about the adventures of the Muppets trying to put on a show were a little.. bland. Of course the characters were still loveable, the songs catchy, and situations amusing, but there was something lacking. In contrast when I saw the directors treat the Muppets as actors, performing in a story not just about themselves, they came alive, they gave new humour to old stories.
This all made me a little dubious about what I would find at this years The Muppets. I trusted Jason Segel and Amy Adams to be amusing and bring their own innocent sense of fun with them, but could the Muppets get away with another film about them all trying to convince others to let them perform (excluding Muppets From Space (1999) which focuses wonderfully on Gonzo)?
In some way I watched it with happy surprise, in other ways my fears were answered.
Jason Segel acted a great part which only encouraged the Muppet world, he sang melodramatically and honestly made me want to join his life of human-muppet existence. The appearance of his own Muppet counterpart was inspired as was the entire song about his own Muppet tendencies. His relationship with Walter, his adorably short Muppet brother, was honest and sweet in its dedication. I would want to be in that family and it set up the film well. Walter’s own love of the Muppets, out of both a feeling of belonging and respect for the vintage cast, was beautiful and reminded me of my own childhood with the Muppets recordings, videos and songs. The whole film reminded the viewers that actually the Muppets have a grand old history, and their dear creator, Jim Henson, died many years ago. It was a beautiful renewal of a classic, it reminded 40 year olds that they grew up with them, and have told their now-20 year olds about the Muppets. It brought generations together again and introduced new generations to it anew through Disney.
However, the storyline was very similar to that which I hoped it wouldn’t be. Although Walter was a great addition, and became a finale which actually brought a few tears to my eyes, the subplot between Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) was predictable at best, and at worse, barely there (my husband now just admitted he didn’t catch their names.. hardly memorable). I actually felt that Amy Adams gave very little to the film overall and she was somewhat wasted – this from a massive fan of her in Disney’s Enchanted (2007), Catch Me If You Can (2002) and surprisingly Night At The Museum 2 (2009). It just seemed like she was for the movie what she was for Gary – someone waiting at the sidelines for something to happen. Her mirroring of Miss Piggy singing “A Me Party” was somewhat clever but the difference is that the relationship between Kermit & Piggy is possibly more well-known than Romeo & Juliet, and pretty close to our hearts. However, the romance between Mary and Gary just didn’t live up; Mary was painted as high school sweetheart (albeit a very intelligent one!) and prom date. With Gary’s decision mainly based on his own identity and not his love for Mary, she was left to the side, letting their story become a little bit of contrast to the Muppets overall story, but hardly a highlighted one.
These little things may have been a shame but they did not destroy the movie as a whole. The hilarious appearance of Jack Black as Animal’s supporter in anger management was inspired, Gonzo’s classic need for explosions, the doppelgängers, and new modern acts performed by chickens et al. made all the old memories come flooding back. Sheldon (Jim Parsons) appearing as Walters human had me smiling from ear to ear, and for 2 days following my viewing songs looped around my head as if I had the soundtrack downloaded to my brain.
I would suggest going to see it. I have recommended it to friends. Partly because it is a good movie, and it is after all the Muppets, but partly because I have a sneaking suspicion that my own prejudice against the movie will relate to only a small percentage of those that watch it. Kermit is as sweet and motivating as ever, Piggy as melodramatic and devoted, and Walter a superb, humble addition to the family. I say welcome, and at the very least I’m glad they are all (including Waldorf & Statler’s classic put-downs) are back – and hopefully back for good!