I had the distinct pleasure of spending a wild Thanksgiving Evening in front of a giant screen that displayed The Muppets in all their glory in one of the best films you'll see all year, The Muppets (2011). This film hits on all levels, it's a spectacular tour de force of action, excitement, humour, and sunshiney triumph. There are certainly spoilers to follow in these first impressions, so beware, folks.
The Muppets was a risky venture. There's something holy about those little puppets. It's not like they've ever taken themselves seriously, but there's less of a Blessid Failure to the franchise. Everyone esteems the property in regards to the famed reputation of its creator, Jim Henson as well as its consistently wholesome and funny yet absurd and self-deprecating signature brand of comedy. Disney handed this to Jason Segel, whose movie career has been often explicitly dirty as well as an absolutely untested director in James Bobin, who really only has episodes of Da Ali G Show and The Flight of the Conchords to his credit. Mix in Nicholas Stoller, the mind behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Get Him to the Greek (2010) and you've certainly got one of the wittier underdog teams in Hollywood but how well could they handle the Holy Muppet Property?
Somehow this is a direct result of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of the most underrated comedies of 2008. A single strange Dracula Puppet Scene is apparently enough to convince Disney that you're fully capable of carrying an entire Muppet movie. It turns out it was a pairing Muppet fans could only dream of. It's almost like a Heath Ledger-Joker thing. It's an absolute "what the hell" casting moment that turns out to be incredible.
Frank Oz may think, this film honours the previous works while providing its own hilarious beats, jokes, and development. It's simultaneously a throwback to earlier comedy films and a very fresh experience in its own right. What's the last movie you saw with songs like this, anyway? Thank Bret McKenzie, another alum of The Flight of the Conchords to the witty songs that inspire a few chuckles without resorting to constant innuendo, slapstick or other cheap laughs. After carefully listening to the tracks you can actually hear the Conchords influence, especially comparing Tex Richman's rap (awkwardly but sincerely performed by Chris Cooper in what may be the film's one weak moment) to something like "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros." There's that quick, confident lyrical stream applied to Muppet songs, which is a wonderful pairing.
Of course, the greatest song in the movie is "Man or Muppet," which has already received some Oscar buzz, and would certainly be deserving. It's both hilarious in is sheer goofiness, the excellent cameo, and the fact that it actually moves the plot forward. Jason Segel also has the uncanny ability to harmonize with his Muppet brother Gary (voiced by relative Muppet veteran Peter Linz). It's the kind of track that is still stuck in my head today.
There's no sell-out here. CGI is limited in order to place these Mop-Puppets in the actual world and not break the connection to the audience. Miss Piggy and Kermit's drama feels real because they up there interacting with each other, just as real as Jason Segel and Amy Adams, as well as dear Gary, of course; the bridge between the Man and Muppet Worlds. The film's really all about these characters growing up and finding at times they need to move away from each other while understanding their deep need for each other at the end. It's a greatly interwoven character dynamic.
The film deals largely with this concept directly. In their own meta-way, the Muppets confront the fact that they have not worked in years and don't seem to be on anyone's radar in this time of Tween Idols and flashy animation. The film reminds us how good and funny the Muppets are and how assured they are with their own role in the pop spectrum.They are constantly aware of how stupid their antics may be and their commentary on it allows them to emerge triumphant instead of wallowing in it. It's an absolutely brilliant film on every level and one of the most satisfying experiences I've had at the movie theater in years.
Also here is a much-needed link to a playlist for all the film's songs.