The Muppets (2011)
The way we were
Do you have guilty pleasures? I don't mean the tongue-in-cheek, so bad it's good kind you have a laugh telling everyone about. I mean the real guilty pleasures. The kind you hide from everyone. Like claiming your all time favourite movie is Casablanca or Star Wars when in reality you pull that copy of Gigli out from in between your mattresses every chance you get. Or throwing on Nickelback's Silver Side Up record and singing at the top of your lungs to How You Remind Me when all your punker friends have gone home for the night. It's not always easy to wear our loves and influences on our sleeves and sometimes, regardless of gender, it takes balls.
Thank goodness then, for people like Jason Segel. Jason is a puppet freak. His house is full of them, the last movie he wrote, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, features a set piece involving a vampire puppet show, an odd but oddly fitting piece of that hilarious rom-com pie, and his obsession with The Muppets has been lifelong.
Now I'm not saying loving The Muppets should be a guilty pleasure, or that (most people anyway) would look down on you for it, but with Segel, you get the impression he's the kind of guy that should Gigli be his favourite movie, he'd have a framed poster of it hanging in his front entrance.
There is a certain amount of bravery required to take something you love as much as Segel loves The Muppets and bring it back into the spotlight, and onto the big screen after an extended period of inactive, or otherwise unremarkable activity.
I guess it makes sense that it be someone as well versed in Muppetry, and someone who was raised on it, to bring the gang back, but what if it didn't work? What if it turned out to be the final nail in the Muppet coffin, showing the world once and for all that The Muppets more or less died with their creator. I would think there'd be a certain amount of stress involved with that.
But fear not, The Muppets 2011 is a smashing success. It retains all the nostalgic glory of the past movies and the show we all know and love starring the puppets who you should never call puppets. It's as kind hearted, star studded, funny and innocent as it should be, it currently holds a very respectable 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and, in my city anyway, almost every show at the local Cineplex is sold out (screwing my plans up once or twice before I got smart and bought my tickets online the night before).
And the thing that's best about the film is the thing that's best about all family films that rise above a target audience age: It's as good for the parents as it is for the kids. The parents get a slice of nostalgia, and a reminder of what they loved about The Muppets in the first place and the kids get, whether for the first time or not, a fantastic story and a damn good reason to love the diversity and entertainment of the characters and their whacky adventures.
And this adventure in particular, concerning a Muppet freak (who is a Muppet himself, though that's never addressed in the movie) who, along with brother played by Jason Segel and his girlfriend played by Amy Adams, set out to help reunite The Muppets and raise enough money to buy back their beloved Muppet studios before it is torn down and replaced with (appropriately topical) an oil derrick.
The filmmakers know damn well they're making a musical and point that out in the movie a few times following song and dance numbers, they also know where The Muppets stand in the current pop culture landscape, and they fill the movie with those reference points as well. This never drifts into the realm of self parody though, and is more of a nod to the fact that they're making a new Muppet movie, rather than a Muppet movie trying to be a Muppet movie.
Obviously all of this is done without the help of Jim Henson, who's been dead now...21 years? Wow. And the rumour is that that other grand Muppet collaborator Frank Oz was offered the chance to participate but turned it down. Hard to see why though, if he actually read the script, as I see this as not only a fitting tribute to The Muppets former glory, but also an excellent reminder that, with the right vision and in the right hands, The Muppets never truly left, they just needed a loving hand to guide them.
It may not ever be easy being green, but, for the next little while at least, it's sure be a whole lot easier than it was.