The Muppets

“Listen everybody, we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. And you know why? Well because, thanks to Walter here we tried. And if we failed, we failed together and to me that’s not failing at all. And I don’t care what anybody says, I don’t care if no one believes in us because… I believe. I believe in you. And you. And you.”

A solitary Muppet out in the world must help Kermit get the gang back together to raise $10 million to save the old Muppets Studio from an oil magnate named Tex Richman, who wants to raze it to drill for oil.

The Muppets (2011)
Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller

After more than a decade away from the big screen, Jim Henson’s creations decided it was time to make a comeback in 2011. They got the big doofy guy from How I Met Your Mother and his writing partner to put a script together and gave the director’s chair to a guy whose most notable directing credit was episodes of Da Ali G Shot.

Their best offer for a new Muppets story? They recycle old Muppets plotlines about the old crew needing to reunite after being separated and not working together after so long, and there’s tension between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. The twist this time around? They’re being aided and encouraged by a random Muppet born to regular human parents who idolized the old gang and who’s looking for his place in the world, along with his regular human brother and the brother’s long-suffering girlfriend.

There is absolutely no reason this movie should have been any good at all.

Despite everything this movie has going against it, it’s actually a really good movie, jam-packed with cameos and filled with classic Muppets humor, updated for a new generation. The film’s antagonist, oil magnate Tex Richman (what a great name) is played ridiculously by Chris Cooper. The man is incapable of laughter, so whenever he gives details of his nefarious schemes, he says, “maniacal laughter” and makes his subordinates – Muppets Deadly and Bear – laugh for him. Between that and when he chews up the scenery rapping his evil intentions, Cooper is an unexpected gem in the movie.

Amy Adams is also great, taking the role of small town (sorry, Smalltown, the place where the main characters are from) girl living in a lonely world where he boyfriend of 10 years cares more about his Muppet brother and making sure he fits in than he does about her. Their anniversary vacation to Los Angeles gets thrown out of whack when her idiot boyfriend invites his brother along and instead of doing things that she wants to do, they end up traveling the world looking for Muppets so they can put on a telethon to raise $10 million.

Within a frame of a couple of days, Kermit learns that Richman is going to raze the studio, manages to go all over the country – and to Paris and back – to gather his crew and gets TV time for a telethon. The whole time he has these random strangers with him. I mean, I guess I would go, too, just to see the kind of trainwreck that was about to happen. Plus, a free trip to Paris in a car that goes underwater. You can’t beat that with a stick.

Adams is just a perfect go-to for the girl next door; she just has that look about her. I wouldn’t be shocked to see her in real life with little animated birds sitting on her shoulder and putting bows in her hair. She makes Mary such a perfect sympathetic figure.

But Mary’s idiot boyfriend, Gary… Good grief. If they wanted Gary to be wildly unlikable, they couldn’t have found a better person for that role than Jason Segal. The big galoot is fine in small increments, like when he’s involved in one of the three plots on a 22-minute sitcom. But having him be the human male lead in an almost-two hour movie, where he’s on screen almost the whole time, should be a punishable offense.

I’m sure you’re supposed to find Gary to be a lovable, if a bit flighty, guy. But man, Segal just has a face you want to smack with a rubber chicken. By the time he completely whiffs on his big anniversary dinner with Mary toward the end of the film, you just want her to find someone who will appreciate her better – and maybe have that guy beat the crap out of Gary.

Of course, the Muppets manage to pull everything together and get their studio back with the help of a kidnapped Jack Black – who is more likable here than any other time I’ve seen him – because it’s a Muppet movie and everything works out in the end. Even Gary and Mary find some middle ground (which only happens because Gary’s brother runs away to join the circus… I mean, decides to stay with the Muppets). You know everything is going to work out for our felt heroes. Thankfully, the journey is mostly worthwhile.

Outside of the wholly-unlikable Jason Segal, the only real complaint I have with the experience is something noticeably missing from the Blu-Ray presentation: a commentary track from my favorite MUPPETS, Statler and Waldorf. How is that not the first thing that gets done when the home release is being planned? Having the ornery old Muppets spend the movie dumping on everyone, MST3K-style would have been absolutely glorious. That’s such a missed opportunity and a wild disappointment overall.