×

The Muppets

Effortlessly blending wised-up, self-reflexive humor with old-fashioned let's-put-on-a-show pizzazz, "The Muppets" is an unexpected treat.

With:
Gary - Jason Segel
Mary - Amy Adams
Tex Richman - Chris Cooper
Executive - Rashida Jones

Effortlessly blending wised-up, self-reflexive humor with old-fashioned let’s-put-on-a-show pizzazz, “The Muppets” is an unexpected treat. Bright and perky, cheeky but never mean-spirited, the seventh Muppet-based theatrical feature finds Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and friends emerging from semi-retirement to reclaim the spotlight, just as Disney is banking (but not coasting) on the popularity of Jim Henson’s puppet creations to win back an adoring moviegoing public. Charming musical elements, a cluster of celebrity cameos and a thoroughgoing sense of creative resurgence engendered by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s smart script should ensure that happy outcome; hecklers will be few.

Joining this year’s “Winnie the Pooh” as an example of a beloved Disney-owned property renewing itself without sullying tradition, “The Muppets” is also the rare sequel conceived as a lovingly crafted tribute from one generation of comedic talent to another. After featuring a line of Henson puppets in their 2008 laffer “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Stoller and Segel pitched the concept of a fresh Muppet movie (the first in the 12 years since the flop of “Muppets From Space”), and Disney brought aboard British scribe-helmer James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords,” “Da Ali G Show”) to direct from the duo’s screenplay.

Whatever one might have expected or feared from a group of funnymen known for their associations with Judd Apatow and Sacha Baron Cohen, the creative team has somehow produced not only a vintage piece of Muppetry, but one of the better screen musicals in recent memory. That much is clear from the sunny opening number, “Life’s a Happy Song,” a soft-shoe setpiece giddily headlined by Midwestern small-towner Gary (Segel) and his puppet pal, Walter, who has nursed a lifelong obsession with the Muppets.

Gary and Walter have been like brothers since childdhood, as seen in a growing-up montage that ends with the comical sight of the pint-sized puppet sharing a bedroom with the 6’4″ Segel. When Gary and Mary (Amy Adams), his extremely patient g.f. of 10 years, head to Los Angeles for a week’s vacation, Walter tags along, eager for the chance to visit Hollywood’s historic Muppet Studios. But the Muppets have long since disbanded, the studio lot has fallen into disrepair, and as Walter conveniently learns, the aptly named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is scheming to seize the property and drill for oil.

Commenting on every cliche along the way, Gary, Mary and Walter drop in on Kermit, then Fozzie Bear, then Gonzo and Animal and so on, setting plans in motion for a Muppets reunion telethon that will raise the dough needed to save their old home. The lone holdout is the ever-diva-like Miss Piggy, now a Paris fashion-mag editrix still nursing hurt feelings over Kermit’s perpetual lack of romantic initiative. Similarly, Mary increasingly resents that the Muppets are monopolizing her time with Gary, while Walter experiences stage fright at the prospect of performing with his idols for the first time.

From the cheery visual design (Rahel Afiley’s matching Gary-Walter costumes merit special mention) to the upbeat score and songs, which include three fresh tunes by music supervisor Bret McKenzie (of “Conchords” fame), every aspect of the production radiates a sheen of clean-scrubbed optimism. Yet the marvel of “The Muppets” is how often it manages to express the most predictably earnest, wide-eyed sentiments, only to turn around and give them an irreverent poke, without seeming in any way insincere.

If the we-know-we’re-in-a-movie winking goes a bit overboard, the pic fosters considerable goodwill by having much of it delivered by Segel and Adams. (When a seemingly dead-end plot twist causes Mary to squeal, “This is going to be a really short movie,” it helps to have an actress as wholesome yet self-aware as Adams selling the line.) With their features and bodies possessed of a positively Muppet-like elasticity, the thesps couldn’t be more in tune with the silly sensibility at play here, or more game for song-and-dance duty. Still, the strangest musical perf comes courtesy of Cooper, busting out a rap so surreally unmotivated that the bouncy-ball subtitles seem designed to facilitate viewer comprehension rather than to get anyone to actually sing along.

Roster of supporting thesps includes Rashida Jones, Emily Blunt, Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis, while James Carville, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris and, most hilariously, an unbilled Jack Black all pop up briefly as themselves. But the human players never overpower the work of multitasking Muppeteers Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel and Peter Linz, whose endearing performances deserve no small credit for this enjoyable throwback.

Preceding the film in theaters is Pixar’s latest “Toy Story” short, “Small Fry,” which slyly sends up the fast-food industry with an amusing examination of toy abandonment issues.

The Muppets

Production: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation. Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman. Executive producers, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, John G. Scotti, Martin G. Baker. Directed by James Bobin. Screenplay, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, based on Disney's Muppet properties and characters.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Don Burgess; editor, James Thomas; music, Christophe Beck; music supervisor, Bret McKenzie; production designer, Steve Saklad; art director, Andrew Cahn; set designer, Patrick Sullivan; set decorator, Tracey Doyle; costume designer, Rahel Afiley; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Steve Cantamessa, Kevin O'Connell, Beau Borders; supervising sound editors, Sean McCormack, Kami Asgar; stunt coordinator, Allan Graf; visual effects supervisor, Janet Muswell Hamilton; visual effects, Look Effects, Centro Digital Pictures; choreographer, Michael Rooney; associate producer, Bill Barretta; assistant director, Josh King; second unit director, Graf; second unit camera, Michael Burgess; casting, Marcia Ross, Gail Goldberg. Reviewed at Disney Studios, Burbank, Nov. 15, 2011. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 98 MIN.

With: Gary - Jason Segel
Mary - Amy Adams
Tex Richman - Chris Cooper
Executive - Rashida JonesMuppet performers: Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz. With: Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, James Carville, Leslie Feist, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Rico Rodriguez, Mickey Rooney, Jack Black. (English, Mandarin, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

  • Taika Waititi Returning to Direct 'Thor

    Taika Waititi to Direct Marvel's 'Thor 4'

    Taika Waititi is returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to his 2017 blockbuster “Thor: Ragnarok.” Waititi’s take on the fourth “Thor” movie puts Warner Bros.’ long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely. However, the studio hopes that “Akira” can get resume production with Waititi at the helm once [...]

  • Akira

    'Akira' Production Put on Hold by Warner Bros.

    Warner Bros. has put its long-in-development “Akira” adaptation on hold indefinitely, sources tell Variety. Sources indicate that after a brief delay, the studio has pulled the plug on production indefinitely for the classic anime adaptation, which was set to begin later this fall. “Thor: Ragnarok” helmer Taika Waititi was on board to direct, and the [...]

  • Sir Elton John, David Furnish. Sir

    New Elton John AIDS Foundation Gala to be Held in the South of France

    Elton John and David Furnish are launching a new gala for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The two will host the inaugural A Midsummer Party benefit on July 24 in the south of France at the Johnny Pigozzi’s private estate, Villa Dorane, in Cap d’Antibes. A cocktail reception will be followed by dinner, a live [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content