I have to say the original Muppet Show only holds a vague and distant place in my memory along with Corona lemonade, the Adventures of Mr Rossi and Space Dust so I haven’t been salivating at the prospect of the sock puppets being dusted off for a technocentric, post-internet world. Yet, somehow, I was drawn to see this movie despite the fact that I think nostalgia is overrated.
But how you make a franchise relevant after an extended period out of the limelight? Dear reader have you not heard of the plot device known as the "reunion"?
Jason Segel plays Gary a small town innocent with, for reasons unexplained, a Muppet for a brother. They make a pilgrimage to the now decrepit Muppet Studios only to find out the place is about to be torn down by evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). In order to save the studio they need to raise $10 million and realise the only way to do this is to get the old gang back together for a telethon.
They track down the remaining Muppets whose fortunes have varied since their heyday, like Vietnam vets acclimatising to civvy street. Fozzie Bear is languishing in a Muppet tribute band called “The Moopets” , Animal is in anger management classes “Animal in control” and Kermit lives in a dated mansion with an 80’s robot tending to his needs like Sly Stallone in Rocky 4.
The Muppets is certainly not a film for the cynics amongst you. I had an old guy sitting next to me who spent the entire film huffing and puffing about elements of the plot and some of the cheesier lines. For a few minutes as I peered through the gloom I thought he might actually be either Statler or Waldorf who had clambered down from the balcony as part of some new interactive audience experiment. For God sake don't go expecting to see Lawrence of Arabia.
Do expect some great musical numbers courtesy of musical supervisor and one time Flight of The Conchords’ Ryhmenoceros Bret McKenzie who pens the sublime “Life’s a Happy Song” and the Oscar nominated “Man or Muppet”. You have no soul if you are not able to raise the smallest of chuckles at a bunch of Muppet chickens clucking away to a cover of Cee Lo’s “Forget You” during the telethon.
As is Muppet tradition do expect some unexpected cameos in the shape of Dave Grohl, Jack Black, Zach Galifiankis and Sarah Silverman amongst other who compliment the real stars of the show.
Do expect some genuinely funny moments courtesy of co-writer and real life Muppet obsessive Jason Sigel who manages to pen a tongue in cheek self referential script without sacrificing the classic Muppet slapstick.
Statler: "If I didnt know better, I'd say you just recited some important plot point." Waldorf: "I hope so. Otherwise I just bored the audience half to death." Statler: "You mean half the audience is still alive?!"
Yes, there is more then a whiff of Camembert during the “never give up” denouement but there are plenty of laughs along the way and the end is saved by another life affirming song and dance number that if you are not humming on the way of out the cinema shows you are a little dead inside.
British director and co-creator of Flight of The Conchords James Bobin should be given credit for his light touch and ability to keep the story moving whilst retaining the innocence and surrealism at the core of the original Muppet philosophy.
In short The Muppets have been given a post-modern makeover that references their 70’s heyday whilst retaining their timeless charm. Now at over 35 years old they truly are a phenomenon…