The Muppets – 2011
I was a fan of the original Muppets. They were genuine, self-aware, a little subversive, and best of all fun. They referenced early entertainers and entertainment forms while half covering current culture. Then, they went away. I never lamented their passing off the entertainment coil, as all things must pass. It is better to go out before you become either a sad parody of yourself, or a crass marketing tool (take a walk through the comics section of a newspaper to see what those look like).
I was cautiously optimistic about the new movie. The Muppets work when they take old, classic plots or forms and mess them up as only the innocent Muppets can do. So, the set up here is that two brothers and a girlfriend set out to see the Muppet theatre from some place in “Small Town Middle America”. When they get there, their dreams are shattered as the Muppet theatre is a broken down dump void of any Muppets. The brothers learn of a plot to demolish the theatre and set out to reunite the Muppets for one more show to get enough money to save the theatre. The movie is about travelling finding the Muppets then putting on a show. It‘s a hokey plot, but that is ok. Muppets are hokey, that is part of the shtick.
The good parts of the movie: There is hardly a cynical bone in this movie. The subtle subversiveness is still there as is the self awareness that they are not like others. The characters are given decent story lines, believable to their original characters. I particularly liked Rolf the piano player’s back story. They strike every note, every character that they need to cover, and that is saying something. One of the problems with something like this is that the Muppets have so many characters that fitting them in the story in a meaningful way is very difficult and leaves little room for the rest of the movie. The cameos are ok. The movie is entertaining if a bit saccharine and safe. It does nothing to hurt or change all those things we loved about the Muppets – and that is exactly where the movie falls a bit short.
The not so good parts of the movie: While the musical numbers are expected, these were a bit plopped in and overdone. The “Me Party” bit seemed to be there just to give the actress some screen time and show that she can dance. The “Muppet-Man” number, the best in the show, felt a lot more like an SNL skit that an actual part of the movie. The bigger issue I have with the film is that it did nothing to move them forward. The whole movie glorifies the past, but fails to move them out of it. It is an honest, fun, a bit overdone exercise in nostalgia.
Maybe I don’t have a right to criticize them for not making the movie I wanted them to make as opposed to the movie they made. This movie is a good kid’s movie that parents will not have to resort to Angry Birds to sit through. It is warm, heartfelt, and funny. All that said, it left me wishing I had hope that the Muppets could return and be relevant today