It is a stressful time of year. The most wonderful time of the year, to be sure, but also full of things to do, places to be, people to see, gifts to buy, bills to pay, and the weather. For teachers and students, the first two weeks of December can be nothing short of dreadful. I was in a meeting of stressed-out teachers and students and someone brought up The Muppets and the entire atmosphere of the room changed. It may be that the antidote to early winter stress is Kermit the Frog.
The Muppets tells the story of two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) who are codependent, a situation that arises from one of them being very tall and the other being, well, basically a Muppet. Growing up, watching The Muppet Show was the only thing that got Walter through feeling different and ostracized. When Gary takes his girlfriend of ten years, Mary (Amy Adams), to Hollywood for their anniversary, he has to take Walter along with them to visit Muppet Studios. When they get there, however, they find the theater dilapidated and about to be sold to an oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Richman has said he wants to turn the studios into a Muppet museum, but really he intends to tear the whole thing down and drill for oil. Walter overhears this information and sets off on a quest to track down Kermit and convince him, and the rest of the Muppets, to do a reunion show and raise the $10 million needed to buy the studio back.
Contrary to what you may have heard, The Muppets does not present the oil tycoon as an evil representative of capitalism so much as it presents The Muppets and the friendship they stand for as an antidote to a very cynical world. Also standing in the way of the Muppets’ optimistic ideology is a network executive, Veronica (Rashida Jones), who informs the gang of their irrelevance. The clearest message in the film has nothing to do with oil or the environment. Instead, The Muppets comments on a culture that would rather watch Slap My Teacher than a show about friendship and acceptance. For me, the problem was that the film was so wrapped in self-referential nostalgia it sometimes ventured from funny to stupid. Granted, it’s the Muppets, but sometimes I think the meta nature of the jokes just fell flat.
Unfortunately, most of these jokes fell on Amy Adams. Although Adams gives another loveable performance, her character felt canned. Similarly, Jason Segel’s portrayal of Gary was incredibly similar to Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. The best actors in the film are, by far, the Muppets themselves. Kermit delivers a poignant performance as himself, a frog who has lost both friends and the love of his life. Fozzy Bear’s jokes have gotten no better, but he is still as sweet as ever. Gonzo is a little predictable. On the other hand, Animal showed uncharacteristic range as he attempted to overcome his drum-induced rage. Also, this movie is full of cameos, which were my favorite part.
Overall, I thought the movie was a lot of fun to watch, but in many ways the screenplay failed. The human characters were overly static and the relationship between Gary and Walter was more annoying than sympathetic. The plot was incredibly predictable until the end, which was surprising but also abrupt and unsatisfying. So it turns out that if you’re stressed, The Muppets very well may cheer you up and lower your blood pressure. It’s clear from this movie, though, that that effect has way more to do with the cultural investment in Jim Henson’s characters than it does with the quality of the movie itself. 3/5 stars.
The Muppets was written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and directed by James Bobin. It runs 103 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor.