Director: James Bobin
Cast: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Peter Linz, Chris Cooper
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Nostalgia. Noun. A warm, fuzzy thing that looks back on the past. (See also: The Muppets)
You might easily confuse those two entries in the dictionary. The easiest way to tell the difference? Only one of them makes you laugh. And has legs. And arms. And Jason Segel. (Hint: it’s the one that’s out now on Netflix UK.)
The Muppets is all about catching up with the past. From the 1950s sky blue suits that Gary (Segel) and Walter (Linz) wear to the cathode ray TV on which they watch The Muppet Show as kids, it’s a 109-minute tribute to Jim Henson’s creation – and the fans that spent their formative years loving it. It takes the form, naturally, of a traditional Muppet movie: an evil, rich, old man from Texas – Tex Richman (Cooper) – has taken away The Muppet’s studio. How can they raise the money to buy it back? Simple: put on a show.
“We haven’t seen each other for a very long time,” croaks Kermit. In an age of reality TV, the world has moved on from felt-based entertainment. Who cares? Do The Muppets? Gonzo is busy running a toilet factory, Miss Piggy is Editor of Paris Vogue and Fozzie is performing in back-street pubs with a tribute act, The Moopets (“Wocka Wocka,” says his streetwise counterpart, his dirty, furry hands probably wielding a bike chain).
Jason Segel’s script, written with Nicholas Stoller, leaves it to Gary, Mary (Adams) and Walter to get the gang back together. It’s a smart move that gives newcomers a way in: they may not know who Rizzo the Rat is, but they can get to know Peter Linz’s well-meaning, whistling wannabe. And so the group travel the globe by road, by montage… and by map.
Along the way, we get the expected mix of music and celebrity appearances. The cameos may not always impress, but the music nails the tone. Bringing on Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie is pretty much the best move director James Bobin (co-creator of Conchords) could have made – his songs are witty, catchy and know when to drop the irony. “Life’s a happy song, with someone by your side to sing along,” smile Segel and Adams in a rousing opening number, before Gary’s main soul-searching ballad hits: “Am I a man or a Muppet?” By the time Chris Cooper gets his vocal chords out for a surprising number, you’ll be desperate to join in.
It all builds up to a climax that directly recalls the original series. Variety acts and visual gags are volleyed into the crowd with Animal-like energy. Is it enough to win over a new audience? By situating the film in the past, The Muppets plays to a crowd who already know them. At times, it risks feeling a bit too cliquey (or, when Disney ads for Cars 2 pop up in the background, commercialised), but their unique brand of nostalgia is so warm and fuzzy that it’s hard for anyone to resist. Whatever your age, life’s a happy song with someone by your side to sing along. And The Muppets knows that will never change.
The Muppets is available to watch online on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, and on Disney Life, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.
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