You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

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

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content