With Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Jack Black, voice of Peter Linz; Written by Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller; Directed by James Bobin; Rated PG (for some mild rude humor). 98 minutes.
If there was any movie that fans and critics alike were anticipating with a mixture of excitement and dread this season, it’s THE MUPPETS. With a platoon of new blood taking over the late Jim Henson’s beloved characters – including a writer/star who was born during the last season of “The Muppet Show” in 1980 – would it be any good or just a Disney-funded, mercenary-led extended commercial for new Muppet merchandise? Maybe it would be best, many thought, if they left well enough alone.
Guess what? “The Muppets” is a hilarious, clever, original, and absolutely joyful movie that manages to reboot the franchise without losing what made it a special in the first place. While there is no doubt plenty of credit to share, special mention must be made of Jason Segel, who not only stars in the film but co-wrote the script with his “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” director Nicholas Stoller. Segel was the one who campaigned to get this movie made, and the result is well worth it.
The movie focuses on a new Muppet character named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) who grows up with his older brother Gary (Segel). Nothing is made of the fact that Walter is a Muppet and Gary is human, but when Gary and his fiancée Mary (Amy Adams) plan a trip to Los Angeles, they take Walter along so that he can take a tour of the fabulous Muppet Studios and theater. Alas, the Muppets have largely been forgotten and their old studio is a rundown wreck, ready to be bought by the evil Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who wants to level the place and start drilling for oil. When Walter learns of this scheme, he seeks out theater manager Kermit the Frog to warn him.
Kermit has been living the living the life of a recluse, but Gary, Mary and Walter convince him to get the old gang together to put on a show to raise the ten million dollars he’ll need to save the studio. You know that the humor is going to be zany when they track down Fozzie Bear in Reno and he’s performing with a Muppets tribute band called “The Moopets.” Eventually, they’re ready to put on a show (and save the neighborhood), but have a problem: they need a celebrity host and Kermit’s Rolodex is filled with his contacts from thirty years ago.
To reveal much more of the plot would spoil the surprises, from un/expected cameos, to the hilarious musical numbers. This may be the best – and nuttiest – Disney musical since “Enchanted.” Part of the fun is that the characters seem to get that they’re in a movie and will comment on the action, whether complaining about having to deliver exposition or noting that a big production number is of a song done earlier in the film.
The puppeteers and voice actors behind Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest really capture the spirit of the originals. The human cast does well, too, with Segel and Adams finding the path of true love doesn’t run smoothly but seeing no difficulty in being surrounded by Muppets. Cooper is a suitably cartoonish villain, but if he’s not stretching much as an actor, he certainly deserves credit for expanding his repertoire to include singing and dancing. He’s the perfect foil for the good guys.
Sometimes you just want to go to the movies and have fun. Go see “The Muppets” put on make-up (and dress up right) and be prepared to have a great time with this Muppet show tonight.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.