I watched The Muppet Show when I was quite young. Seeing old clips feels like vaguely recalling a dream that has slipped away and only slight silhouettes of déjà vu remain. Newer properties like 1996’s short-lived Muppets Tonight, all of the movies, and my favourite Saturday morning cartoon Muppet Babies are a bit more fresh. But, it’s been awhile. My Muppet fandom has stayed latent for years. I’d been excitedly anticipating their return since seeing the trailer last spring. Jason Segel helms the script and stars in what is clearly a labour of love. He’s created the perfect Muppet movie like only a true fan could.
Don’t get a room, you two. I want to see everything.
We’re first introduced to Segel’s and Amy Adams’s characters, Gary and Mary, two lovebirds who have been stalled at the dating stage for ten years, andGary’s younger brother and best buddy, Walter (who’s incidentally a Muppet in appearance.) Walter is the Muppets’ number one fan because they brought him joy when the rest of the world made him feel like an outcast.
We’re treated to an old fashioned musical number with dancing in the streets written by Bret McKenzie, of Flight of the Conchords fame. The Muppets don’t come along until later, which allows the world and its rules to be established as we anticipate their appearance. We learn that while Gary and Mary are happily in love, an ever-young Walter gets in the way of their alone time, much toGary’s ignorance. The two head toL.A. for the couple’s anniversary, and Walter tags along to visit the Muppet Studios. They discover the Muppets’ formerHollywood home has become a decrepit ghost-town, and an evil oil tycoon (who always wants his cronies to laugh maniacally) wants to tear it down for the sweet riches underneath. The Muppets must get back together and put on a show to raise the money to stop him. Classic.
The script is consistently funny. I don’t want to get into too many specifics because it may ruin some surprises. The only time I wasn’t smiling was when my eyes were tearing up. Someone must have been peeling a Muppet onion.
The characters are adorable and awesome—like a seal cub and a fuzzy chick had a baby and it made me a cake and it was delicious. Both verbal and visual jokes heavily populate the script. The inclusion of what must be every classic Muppet is meticulously planned to maximum comedic effect; if they don’t have any dialogue, they’re placed in the background or to the side like Easter Eggs. Penguins? Of course. Large-mouthed monsters? Uh-huh. Creepy babies? You bet. While the writers evoked their true characters, the story was very self aware in terms of it modernity. At one point, someone opens a fridge in the old studio and the singing food inside is covered in mould. There’s a great feeling of organic continuity rather than one of an isolated script that happens to have Muppets in it (the way Muppets from Space sometimes felt.)
At no point did I think, ‘oh god, they’re going to sing again.‘ We’re treated to both new and old songs with laugh-out-loud performances. The plot is appropriately meta because the Muppets needing to raise money to save their studios requires people coming to the show and learning to love them again—just like theatre audiences supporting Segel’s Muppet masterpiece.The cameos are chosen much better, too.
It’s clear a hardcore fan wrote this. It doesn’t simply say, Hey, remember these guys? It’s not just a heartfelt tribute. Segel brings them back to life in 2011 with a continuation of, can we say, Muppet mythology? The characterization, visual gags, and brilliant mix of classic and modern humour (“Muppet man” had me almost in tears) almost have you feeling that the Muppets are real and this is a documentary.
I highly recommend catching it in theatres so you can be surrounded by the laughter and pure enjoyment of the audience. Even non-fans will enjoy the clever jokes and heart-warming story, and may find themselves with a song in their head on the way home. While my room may not be covered in Muppets paraphernalia like Walter’s, The Muppets reanimates the characters and feels like a perfect reunion with an old love.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when you spot a background gag
Take a Drink: for each celebrity cameo
Take a Drink: for 80s Robot
Cheers your Friends: when the telethon starts, and it’s time to play the music and light the lights.