The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Muppets
Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and the Muppets.

I grew up loving the Muppets. I watched their show faithfully, had a multitude of their toys, and even wore a Kermit the Frog wristwatch throughout my elementary and middle school years. I have fond memories of my parents taking me to see the original Muppet Movie back in 1979. The soundtrack to that film was a regular on my turntable. (Turntables – remember them?) In the time since then, the Muppets lost some of their coolness. Not for me personally, but for pop culture at large. Other, more technologically sophisticated things took over, rendering felt puppets a bit old-fashioned. They rarely popped up on TV, and their films – like Muppets From Space - dropped markedly in quality. The Muppets marks a triumphant return for these beloved characters, making them cool again by, oddly enough, embracing the fact that, for a time, they weren't.

Jason Segel (who also penned the screenplay) stars as Gary, a small-town guy whose brother Walter is a Muppet, although no one ever seems to acknowledge that. Gary is planning a trip to Los Angeles with schoolteacher girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Much to her chagrin, he invites Walter along. Lifelong Muppet devotees, they plan to visit the Muppet Theater as a highlight of the vacation. But when they find out that evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) has plans to tear down the museum and drill for oil beneath it, Gary, Mary and Walter seek out Kermit the Frog to warn him about the situation. Kermit's idea is to reunite the now-estranged Muppets and hold a telethon to raise the $10 million they'd need to keep the place.

The traditional “let's get the old gang back together and put on a big show” plot could have felt tired, but The Muppets uses it well. For starters, the film sometimes humorously breaks the fourth wall to comment on the conventions of the well-worn plot. It also uses it to acknowledge the Muppets' decline in popularity in recent years. Rashida Jones plays a network television executive who schools them on their own fall from favor; she agrees to give them airtime only if they can find a big celebrity to host the telethon. The movie cleverly turns the Muppets into pop culture underdogs, which makes us root for them while simultaneously tapping into our nostalgia. It is the exact right approach.

This film made me feel good all over. It has all the essential elements you'd expect: lovable characters, catchy musical numbers, funny jokes, and witty cameos. (No spoilers here, but my favorite cameo comes during a musical performance set in Reno.) It captures the classic Muppet spirit, while also injecting a fresh new energy via self-referential jokes and story points. Director James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords”) keeps the pace quick, staging the visual humor in inventive ways that prevent the punchlines from being predictable. He also makes the most of the heart that is evident in Segel's script (which was co-written with Nicholas Stoller). If the Muppets have ever meant anything to you, your heart will be warmed during the big finale.

The integration between humans and Muppets is perhaps better than ever. That's really a big part of the trick in making a picture like this work. The beauty of the Muppets is that they've always been able to feel real; you forget that puppeteers are hovering just below the human actors. Jason Segel and Amy Adams deserve credit for helping to foster that. Really, they have to integrate themselves into the Muppets' space, rather than vice versa, and they do it well. Both actors give charming performances that feel right at home alongside their felt co-stars.

It's so great to see Kermit and Miss Piggy and Gonzo and Scooter on the big screen again. It's great to hear Animal play the drums, Statler and Waldorf crack wise from the balcony, and Fozzie Bear make terrible puns. It's great to be reminded of the Muppet universe, which is filled with laughter and music and love. Yep, The Muppets is pretty great all around.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Muppets is rated PG for mild rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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