Film review: The Muppets

posted at 4:45 pm on November 25, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

When The Muppet Show had its heyday, I was a big fan — which might puzzle a few people who know how old I am, since I was in high school for almost the entirety of its first-run span.  My friends and I were in the theater group, and we loved the snarky asides, the breaking of the fourth wall, and the gentle, playful digs at the theater as well as at pretense in general.  At some level, though, I’m sure we also loved the connection to our quickly-departing childhoods, made easier by the genuinely high quality of the supposedly shoestring production values, plus the never-ending string of celebrities who willingly played along with the joke.

It’s been more than a decade since the Muppets last made their mark on American audiences, and their last outing (Muppets in Space) didn’t leave too many people yearning for their return.  Fortunately, Judd Apatow regular Jason Segel was one of those few, and he co-wrote and co-exec-produced The Muppets, which debuted this weekend.  The film brings back everything that made the old series wonderful and presents it to a new generation of Muppet fans … and a couple of older generations as well.

The plot is a mix of reboot and sequel.  The Muppets have long since gone their separate ways, so when brothers Gary (Segel) and Walter (a Muppet voiced by Peter Linz) travel to Los Angeles with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to see their studio, it’s a wreck that’s about to be seized by ruthless billionaire Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who wants to destroy it to drill for oil.  The only thing that will save it will be for the Muppets to get back together and put on a telethon to raise the $10 million needed to keep the studio.  If they don’t, as Mary says, “It’s going to be a short movie.”  The Muppets set out on a road trip to get their group back together, fix the theater, and raise the money to protect it and their own names, as the rival Moopets look to take their place with Richman’s help.

Needless to say, the film plays with these cliches even as it uses them, and none of it gets taken too seriously.  Cooper is unexpectedly hilarious as the eeevil Richman, mostly by playing it so straight that the schtick is made all the more obvious.  The songs are both sweet and funny, and the early musical numbers get treated irreverently.  Segel and Adams make a great pair on screen, both being especially earnest in their roles, allowing the Muppets themselves to provide most of the jokey asides.  Just as with the earlier, classic Muppets incarnations, the film is filled with all-star cameo appearances, including a rather substantial one from Jack Black as himself.  Kids will mostly miss the inside humor of these appearances, but the adults will love them.

We saw the film last night with three generations of our extended family.  All three loved the film; the Little Admiral at nine years of age proclaimed, “I didn’t like the movie — I LOVED it!”  Her three-year-old little sister was so engrossed in the movie that she stood for most of the film, staring at the screen, even after being tired out by a Thanksgiving Day that didn’t include her usual nap.  A few of us from the older generation sang quietly along with “The Rainbow Connection,” and the First Mate almost did a genuine spit-take after taking a swig of water right before one punch line dropped.  I would highly recommend The Muppets as a family viewing experience this weekend, or any other weekend.


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My God, they haven’t aged a bit. Unnatural…

karl9000 on November 25, 2011 at 4:49 PM

Why couldn’t the evil one be an environmentalist who wants to tear down the studio to improve the habitat for the almost extinct purple circled snail worm?

Cecil on November 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

The Muppets, like “Rocky and Bullwinkle” succeeded on several levels. The kids thought they were funny, but the adults got the clever cultural, literary and historical references.

And “Rainbow Connection” is back!?!

Wethal on November 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

I grew up watching The Muppet Show and loved it and am happy for the good reviews!

One think I couldn’t help but note – as I read:

The Muppets set out on a road trip to get their group back together, fix the theater, and raise the money to protect it

All I could think was: “We’re getting the band back together.”

RDuke on November 25, 2011 at 4:56 PM

Thanks for the review, Ed. My two boys have all the DVD’s of “The Muppet Show” and have watched them repeatedly…..

***Actually, as a result, I may have the only 9-year-old son that CURRENTLY has a crush on Sandy Duncan.

We’ll be seeing it this weekend, I’m sure.

JustTurnRight on November 25, 2011 at 4:56 PM

Thanks, Ed. We’ll catch this one as well as Hugo. It’s a rare good, clean weekend for Hollywood new releases.

itsnotaboutme on November 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Muppets Operational Occuppy Mission to
occuppy the big screen,oh wait,thats pure
loony crazy talk,er……

canopfor on November 25, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Thanks for this review. Saw it today — wonderful family movie and adults will enjoy it too (wasn’t even particularly a Muppets fan when little, either). A delight seeing how much the little ones enjoyed it.

For additional laughs for adults, the various parody trailers are highly recommended:

The Pig With the Froggy Tattoo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHqLcEtt368

Green With Envy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ry-MPAkLRrI&feature=relmfu

Being Green: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUUcOmgYEhY&feature=relmfu

Fuzzy Pack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn69ZyQU9JI&feature=relmfu

inviolet on November 25, 2011 at 5:00 PM

I once took a half day at the office to catch the Muppet Treasure Island movie which I enjoyed. The funny thing was the kids in the theater were laughing at the violent stuff and my girlfriend and I were giggling over the dialogue.

Sounds like I will have to see this one too! Thanks for reviewing this.

lexhamfox on November 25, 2011 at 5:01 PM

I heard this was a great Family movie from several critics.
Dittos on Hugo!

Kini on November 25, 2011 at 5:02 PM

hmm, spam caught the comment (all the links?). A terrific movie, and thanks for the review.

Seriously, do not miss the parody trailers on YouTube:

The Pig With the Froggy Tattoo
Green With Envy
Being Green
Fuzzy Pack

inviolet on November 25, 2011 at 5:03 PM

When 3 muppet fans learn that Tex Richman wants to drill under the muppet theater for oil Gary, Mary and Walter set out to find the muppets who have been split up for years

Why am I not surprised at who the villain is? A more plausible one would be a government hack just taking the theater so he can give it to his crony capitalist friends.

RadClown on November 25, 2011 at 5:05 PM

Huge fan of the Muppet Show. Looking forward to see this.

vcferlita on November 25, 2011 at 5:05 PM

Pigs in spaaaaace!

Luved the Star Wars gang visiting the Muppets.

Electrongod on November 25, 2011 at 5:23 PM

We saw it Wednesday night. The whole family thought it was great.

Bobbertsan on November 25, 2011 at 5:24 PM

I’m sure it’s sweet and light-hearted and funny and all. But I really get sick of being perpetually cast as a societal villain.

And the kids do pick up on the villainy-casting.

ss396 on November 25, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Why couldn’t the evil one be an environmentalist who wants to tear down the studio to improve the habitat for the almost extinct purple circled snail worm?

Cecil on November 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

The villain isn’t an attack on conservatives. He’s a parody of a certain type of stock Hollywood villain. It’s not malicious, just a satirical take on a common movie trope.

DangerHighVoltage on November 25, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Got tired of the eeeevvvilll oil barron propaganda…they really drove the point home that drilling for oil is eeeevvviiilllll.

A mere echo of the orginal Muppet Movie- but if you have small children it is good clean entertainment (which is a rarity in today’s cinematic fare).

shannonkelly on November 25, 2011 at 5:33 PM

FUN! And funny! Loved the dancing, most of the jokes, and so much more. Low point was the appearance of James Carville. But, I was enjoying the movie so much, he didn’t make me mad… For once. :)

balkanmom on November 25, 2011 at 5:35 PM

Miss Piggy fan here. Can’t wait to see the movie.

gophergirl on November 25, 2011 at 5:36 PM

Sounds great. Not.

Never too young to plant the seeds of class warfare, eh? And for that matter, why, exactly, is saving the disused studio preferable to creating a few energy jobs and presumably providing a little more domestic oil?

And why (rhetorical question) do these movies never have a plucky small-business man as the hero (or big-business, for that matter), with the anti-commerce eco-terrorist radicals as the bad guys?

bofh on November 25, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Low point was the appearance of James Carville. But, I was enjoying the movie so much, he didn’t make me mad… For once. :)

balkanmom on November 25, 2011 at 5:35 PM

They oughta make a Ragin’ Cajun Muppet. It would grunt & sputter at a mile a minute, making no sense at all (a la Swedish Chef).

itsnotaboutme on November 25, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Waldorf: You know, the second half of this show reminds me of Aspen.
Statler: Why Aspen?
Waldorf: Cause it’s all downhill from here!

No seriously it looks good. But no Muppet references are complete without Statler and Waldorf. Those two are STILL hilarious. Check out their Youtube videos.

KillerKane on November 25, 2011 at 5:47 PM

We saw it last night with the yung uns’. The place was packed. All ages.

The little ones liked it. Me and Mammy thought it was cute and clean (definitely throwback). Cameos were nice. I’m sick of puppets, cuddly Pixar type movies but it was good.

And the Toy Story Mini movie at the beginning was very cute.

from here in Possum Holler…..thumbs up.

PappyD61 on November 25, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Why couldn’t the evil one be an environmentalist who wants to tear down the studio to improve the habitat for the almost extinct purple circled snail worm?

Cecil on November 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

Yeah, didn’t like the bad guy was BIG TEX OIL. They did that crap in Happy Feet. That’s why we didn’t go to Happy Feet 2. And if you notice CARS2 the bad guy was………….you guessed it BIG OIL.

PappyD61 on November 25, 2011 at 5:57 PM

bofh on November 25, 2011 at 5:42 PM

You know, sometimes being PC can be a drag…just like your raining on this movie. Same as the crying over the PC attitude in Avatar…

lovingmyUSA on November 25, 2011 at 6:01 PM

We’re going tonight! Glad to hear the good review.

Fallon on November 25, 2011 at 6:06 PM

The Toy Story short was great. Don’t understand the backlash seeing the movie as an attack on conservatism. The hero characters come from Smalltown, Nebraska, population 102. It is self-consciously campy with some catchy songs and great cameos.

Ted Torgerson on November 25, 2011 at 6:06 PM

Muppets, Schmuppets!

The movie to see this weekend is Martin Scorsese’s wonderful and magical family film, “Hugo”!

I have seen this film twice now, both times in 3D and it is a marvelous salute to early film making pioneer Georges Melies, the father of movie special effects. It is also the first film I have ever seen that uses the technique of 3D to enhance the storytelling, instead of being reduced to a cheap visual gimmick that has stuff thrown at the audience.

The fact that Martin Scorsese made this film is proof the man is a genius when it comes to film making. Unlike his profanity-laced crime films, “Hugo” is a movie you can take the entire family too and have each and every member enchanted.

I also think “Hugo” is going to be a shoo-in for a number of nominations at next year’s Oscars, including Best Picture. It is that good!

So you can keep your tired, worn out Muppets! “Hugo” is definitely THE movie to see this weekend!

pilamaye on November 25, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Love the Muppets, but don’t see how it can be the same without Henson and Oz doing their voices.

Del Dolemonte on November 25, 2011 at 6:14 PM

Do Miss Piggy and Meggy Mac fight it out at the end in a climactic battle?

stefanite on November 25, 2011 at 6:15 PM

You know, sometimes being PC can be a drag…just like your raining on this movie. Same as the crying over the PC attitude in Avatar…

lovingmyUSA on November 25, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Oh, OK. I guess they just picked those characterizations at random. Nothing to do with trying to influence public opinion (especially the young ‘uns) or anything like that…

So answer my rhetorical question then, when did you last see one of these where the villains were greenies?

The progressives control the media. And they USE IT.

Bah. Humbug.

bofh on November 25, 2011 at 6:16 PM

Loved it. It was like a contest, counting all the cameo appearances.

princetrumpet on November 25, 2011 at 6:20 PM

Jim Henson spins like a lathe while his heirs cash the checks.

BHO Jonestown on November 25, 2011 at 6:23 PM

Can’t wait, and I really hope it’s not medium.*

*Apologies to Statler and Hilton.

Mr. Grump on November 25, 2011 at 6:23 PM

“Luved the movie, fer sure.
!!!!Up twinkles!!!!
Real groovy man.” – Janice the Muppet

Electrongod on November 25, 2011 at 6:25 PM

Hahaha, those trailers were great. I may have to go see that tomorrow, even if I have to go by myself.

scalleywag on November 25, 2011 at 6:26 PM

I plan on seeing the movie. However, why couldn’t the villain have been an evil politician trying to get the theater through imminent domain to clear the way for the large company he owns stock in? Why couldn’t the villain have been eco-freaks who wanted to close the theater because it couldn’t meet the latest “green” regulations? I do get so tired of the left leaning movie industry choosing bad guys/gals who neatly fit their agendas. Remember the avalanche of movies that bombed 4 or 5 years ago? They cast our military as the villains! Are we ever going to see movies that cast the people who actually make our economy work as the hero/heroines? I do not agree with those who believe the propoganda in this film is innocuous. If you see this caricature enough times, it has an impact. Don’t believe me? How many billions of dollars are spent by hard headed businessmen on TV advertizing? I don’t think they would spend their money if they believed, “There is no impact on the people watching.” Gobbles was right – you know, the lie thing.

conservative educator on November 25, 2011 at 6:33 PM

The villain isn’t an attack on conservatives. He’s a parody of a certain type of stock Hollywood villain. It’s not malicious, just a satirical take on a common movie trope.

DangerHighVoltage on November 25, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Ah, so it is actually making fun of screen writers who use that stock villain, rather than actual oil men.

Count to 10 on November 25, 2011 at 6:34 PM

I thought it was good. Not as magical as the original Muppet Movie, but my kids loved it.

As for Tex Richman, the entirety of the role was over the top. He wants to tear down the Muppet theater, in Hollywood, to drill for oil. Which he’s been told there’s oil there by the USGS, so it’s a ridiculous premise for a bad guy.

There are some seedier elements in the movie as well who pick on Fozzy. On Fozzy! And they have to contend with a television exec (Rashida Jones) who’s big show is pretty horrible. So nobody’s really getting a pass here.

Nethicus on November 25, 2011 at 6:37 PM

mah na mah na… doo doo da doo doo…

equanimous on November 25, 2011 at 7:02 PM

I’ll save ya $10.00. This clip below is the best thing about Puss n Boots.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KkFFdWf0ME&feature=youtube_gdata_player

“ooooooooh”!!

PappyD61 on November 25, 2011 at 7:06 PM

so the bad guy is a texas oil man who wants to drill for much needed domestic energy and provide thousands of high paying jobs while boosting the local and national economy?

I don’t care how cute the movie is, I’m sick of this crap.

Daemonocracy on November 25, 2011 at 7:12 PM

1:42 of the trailer. Now for the rest of the evening, I won’t be able to get out of my head: Ma na na nop (Do do de do do) Ma na na nop (Do do de do) Ma na na nop (Do do de do do de do de do de do… etc).

radjah shelduck on November 25, 2011 at 7:15 PM

Won’t see it. I saw on one of the promos for the film that Sarah Silverman has a small part in the Muppets movie. I won’t go anywhere near anything having to do with that despicable foul-mouthed hag.

WarEagle01 on November 25, 2011 at 7:58 PM

Ah, so it is actually making fun of screen writers who use that stock villain, rather than actual oil men.

Count to 10 on November 25, 2011 at 6:34 PM

The thing about the Muppets is they are very meta. Always have been. There’s a lot of satire of Hollywood, theater, filmmaking, etc, and a lot of breaking of the fourth wall. This character is a parody of a common movie cliche. (though sometimes they’re trying to tear down the historic building to build a shopping mall instead of drill for oil…) They also lampoon gangsta culture with the Moopets spin-off characters. It’s all just for fun. And heck, Ed’s far more of a social con than I (I’m essentially libertarian) and he saw no problem with it.

I think it pays just to not think too much about it. If you go out of your way to look for the insult, you’re going to find one, even if there was never one there to begin with.

DangerHighVoltage on November 25, 2011 at 8:13 PM

I’m ridiculously excited to see this movie. Almost wore out the album from the original from the late 70s. I’m trying to rope my teenager and pre-teen to go with me… ;-)

Grace_is_sufficient on November 25, 2011 at 8:15 PM

GET YOUR TICKETS ONLINE!!! We showed up this morning at 11:20 for the 11:45 showing, and it was sold out. We were surprised. And when we did get in to the 1:30 show, we had to get there at least 20 min early for a good seat. Who woulda thought….the Muppets!

balkanmom on November 25, 2011 at 9:09 PM

Not sure I can watch a Frank Oz-less Muppets.

Ortzinator on November 25, 2011 at 9:10 PM

I think it pays just to not think too much about it. If you go out of your way to look for the insult, you’re going to find one, even if there was never one there to begin with.

DangerHighVoltage on November 25, 2011 at 8:13 PM

From 1st grade on, public school students are subject to the Progressive Weltanschauung. The presentation is ubiquitous, persistent and effective. No one villainy is enough to get highly exercised over, but they accumulate. New educational theory notwithstanding, kids truly do learn best by rote – and the demonizing of business, of oil, of religion, of military, of hunters, and so forth is done through an incessant multimedia repetition of that catechism.

Several of the commentators above have raised the excellent – and still unanswered! – question of why don’t the villains ever come from the Progressive ranks? While I don’t mind suspending reality to enjoy a movie, why am I so frequently called upon to also suspend my ethics?

ss396 on November 25, 2011 at 9:22 PM

Several of the commentators above have raised the excellent – and still unanswered! – question of why don’t the villains ever come from the Progressive ranks? While I don’t mind suspending reality to enjoy a movie, why am I so frequently called upon to also suspend my ethics?

ss396 on November 25, 2011 at 9:22 PM

Because it should be a rhetorical question. Everyone knows most of media, including the film industry is Liberal. Maybe we need to encourage more Conservatives to get into the movie business?

That said, in the Muppet movies villains have ranged from pirates to Scrooge to jewel thieves to a guy who sells frog legs. Now make of that what you will.

Deanna on November 25, 2011 at 9:57 PM

All Liberl versus Conservative aside, the Muppets in general have always pushed family values, friendship, capitalism(running a theater or show,) small town America, and even diversity.
And then talk about stereotypes, I mean Johnny Fiama, Swedish Chef, Pepe the Prawn, etc. People can find anything they want to complain about in a Muppet show or movie, they are equal opportunity satirists.

Deanna on November 25, 2011 at 10:06 PM

All I could think was: “We’re getting the band back together.”

RDuke on November 25, 2011 at 4:56 PM

Yeah, much of the first act was a lot like The Blues Brothers. I think that it was an homage. :) :) :)

I saw the movie last night with my wife, my two nieces and a friend. The whole audience loved the movie (there was a lot of clapping at the end). It was wonderful. I must admit that I teared up badly during “The Rainbow Connection” (I _almost_ cried and I can count the number of movies that have made me cry on one hand (Testament and Pay it Forward both come to mind), so that is saying something). “The Rainbow Connection” number reminded me of the final duet in A Mighty Wind in a really, really good way.

Go see The Muppets; it is wonderful. :) :):)

Theophile on November 25, 2011 at 10:10 PM

Oh, my only concern about the movie is that Rizzo the Rat seems to have completely disappeared. It’s not the end of the world since he seems to be a hallmark of Junior’s turn at the helm, but, after all of the movies with him as such a main character (always right beside Gonzo), I noticed his absence.

Theophile on November 25, 2011 at 10:12 PM

I was also in high school when The Muppet Show first debuted, we all loved it and watched every episode every week. Our choir even sang a Muppet Movie Medley my senior year. I’m glad they’re back.

I think, in general, that we were MUCH more innocent at that age than our children today. I know mine (18, 19, and 25) are FAR more sophisticated and knowledgeable about life than I was. We were pretty sheltered as kids, college was a shock (all 3 of my roommates smoked pot!). My kids knew about things in middle school that I didn’t know about until college or later.

The upside of that is that they’re very self-confident and take new situations in stride. Where I was nervous about a new job, my kids jump right in. I traveled alone for the first time when I was 35, my kids all did it by the time they were 14. They can find their way around any city and any group of people.

We haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s hard to coordinate everyone’s work schedule, but I’m sure we would all enjoy it.

Common Sense on November 26, 2011 at 12:59 AM

Netflix queue.

jaschenb74 on November 26, 2011 at 8:27 AM