Published on February 21st, 2012 | by Lisa McInerney3
Movie Review: The Muppets
Like Billy from The Commitments, I’ve never been shy about telling people that Animal from The Muppets has been a personal influence. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s impulse personified (muppetified?), an exploding bass drum of colour, noise and silly string. I wish life had more Animal. I wish The Muppets had more Animal.
Because this is the problem with The Muppets. There just aren’t enough of the Muppets in it.
I’m not fond of starting reviews with criticism, but the overwhelming echo once I’d finished watching The Muppets movie was that I was a little… well, underwhelmed. Which is odd, because The Muppets is a joy to watch. It’s funny, clever, and moving, and its musical numbers will bore into your brain like a zombie weevil wearing tap shoes. But I was still left wondering whether such a premise as the Muppets bursting back onto our screens had been exploited as it could have been. Whether, in the quest to introduce the legends to a new generation, their original charm had been spread too thin.
Walter is a Muppet in a man’s world. From Smalltown, USA (a ‘50s-saturated idyll which hints at satire, without ever getting there), he has always been painfully aware of how different he is from the other residents, despite the best efforts of his human brother, Gary (Jason Segel). It’s no surprise that Walter feels more affinity with The Muppets he sees on TV, so when Gary arranges for him to come along on his tenth anniversary trip to L.A. with long-suffering sweetheart, Mary (Amy Adams), Walter knows exactly what he wants to do: visit The Muppets theatre and meet his heroes. But once there, he overhears a fiendish plot by the dastardly Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, hamming it up like a porcine explosion) to raze the Muppet Theatre to the ground and get at the oil beneath. The only hope to save the hallowed halls is to raise ten million dollars, and the only way to do it is to persuade Kermit and Co, who have long since parted ways, to… well, to put on a show, of course. But the path to nostalgic architectural salvation doesn’t run smoothly. With their TV exec screaming for a secured celebrity host, The Muppets discover that they don’t have the star power they used to. Walter doesn’t know if he has the confidence to make it. Richman’s got more than arms up his sleeves. And one very special Muppet has lost her faith in Kermit.
The initial worry about The Muppets was that its reception would echo its plot, which makes its plot a superb in-joke that couldn’t fail even if it failed. Meta. But the denizens of the internet age, powered by nostalgia and a desperate thirst for something not computer generated or pulled apart by Vincent Browne, have welcomed the gang with open arms. Which is just as well, because in trying to be all things to all people – reeling in new fans whilst placating devotees – The Muppets doesn’t always succeed.
Far too much time is given to the sweet but boring Walter, and to Gary’s subplot, which has him slowly realising how much he’s neglected Mary. Both arcs would be pointless if they didn’t culminate in the Oscar-nominated and frankly brilliant song Man or Muppet, through which I doubt anyone could keep their mouth straight, so I guess the end justifies the means. What’s more perplexing is that you can easily come away from The Muppets wishing that there hadn’t been a Gary/Mary storyline, whilst simultaneously mourning the criminal underuse of the infinitely likeable Amy Adams.
And the criminal underuse of the Muppets cast, because with the exception of Kermit, Piggy, and to a lesser extent Fozzie, there isn’t half enough time given to what we’ve all come to the cinema to see. In particular, there is a serious lack of Gonzo (something I take very personally) and nothing at all from Rizzo. Animal is prevented (admittedly by himself) from drumming for most of the running time, and when he finally gets ‘round to it, he doesn’t exactly reach Cadbury Gorilla levels of ecstasy. Uncle Deadly, partnered with Bobo, finishes the movie without him. Statler and Waldorf don’t so much heckle as gently chide. And while his number is fun, it’s maddening that Walter is given the show’s grand finale; why couldn’t it have been The Rainbow Connection? Walter just isn’t Muppety enough for his story to supersede Kermit’s.
But while it feels like the Muppets are reduced to cameos in their own movie, that happily results in plenty of scene-stealing (I positively squealed when Pepe makes his appearance), which I guess is another end that justifies the means. And perhaps if we were to give all of the Muppets their due, we’d end up with a film far too long to screen. It’s similar, in that sense, to The Simpsons Movie; in having to build a plot hefty enough to hold the cast of casts, you have to mute them a little. There are all of those celebrity appearances to squish in too, and like Fozzie’s jokes they come thick and fast (I enjoyed Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black less so. He’s scary when he’s manic).
When the individual Muppets get their chance to shine, their segments generally don’t match the zany glee of their heyday sketches. With the exception of Camilla and Beaker, there’s a sense that the potential of each character hasn’t quite been tapped, even with such rich history to draw from. Again, that’s not to say that The Muppets isn’t a wonderful romp, but is there enough there to make new initiates understand why aficionados love the show so much?
To get with the programme and cut a long story short: The Muppets is a fantastic show, but it’s no The Muppet Show. Wocka wocka!
Highly recommended, but especially if you’re not a militant Gonzo fan with a Rizzo-shaped chip on your shoulder.