Co-writer and star Jason Segel and director James Bobin courageously embraced the arduous task of recapturing the magic of The Muppets for a new generation, safe in the knowledge that the adult ‘kids’ out there who remember the show first time around would only need a few bars of Sam Pottle and Jim Henson’s iconic theme tune to secure a captive interest. However, this alone cannot guarantee a whole new movie’s success, and it’s because Segel and Bobin – of The Flight of the Conchords fame – have stuck to making this a puppet character-driven piece full of the coy innocence of the 70s’ franchise, and created another new Muppet character called Walter who gingerly and affectionally takes centre-stage that The Muppets (2011) still triggers the warm and fuzzy nostalgia from 30 years ago.
In the Segel-Bobin film, The Muppets’ biggest fan Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) convinces his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) to make a pilgrimage to the old Muppet studios while Gary and girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) holiday in LA. But while there, Walter overhears that the studio grounds and the theatre that housed The Muppet Show are being sold to a greedy oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who has other fatalistic plans for the site. Geared into action, Walter and co unite to convince The Muppets, including Kermit The Frog, to strive to raise the funds to save the historic site by putting on another The Muppet Show/telethon.
Although unoriginal but highly relevant, the plot – good sense overcoming corporate evil – has wisely been kept simplistic to allow the main focus to be reintroducing The Muppets and their personalities that have merely been briefly showcased through other movies and TV specials in the past few decades, but never reunited in full force to show their appeal. Walter represents the ardent, ever-loyal fan here, like a human-puppet ambassador to guide new viewers to Muppet nirvana. In doing so the often-overpowering and self-depreciating Segel screen personality actually takes a back seat with chirpy Adams, content with playing the goofy human support in some awkward but hilarious song-and-dance moments, letting the true felt-made stars shine.
Even with ample ammunition to go on an entertainment offensive against the likes of reality TV shows and faddy TV diets the TV corporations now deliver, the writers never get preachy or cynical, and in turn lose the gracious charm and ever lovable, sweet nature of the original show – even with some of the latter having fallen on hard times, like Fozzie Bear performing in some back-of-beyond bar with his less talented Muppet tribute band, The Moopets.
That said the Muppet global roundup that takes up a good percentage of the run-time, which includes Kermit, Walter and co relocating Kermit’s lost love, Miss Piggy, in Paris, working as the fashion editor of Vogue with Emily Blunt as her assistant (a Devil Wears Prada nod), is both a necessary introduction and a counterproductive snag in that its significance triggers more thrill factor for established fans, but might leave the younger viewers the filmmakers hope to target a little restless. Indeed the only saving grace is the Muppets are so recognisable that both demographics are likely to rally behind the troupe to save the establishment, and the good-natured and earnest way they go about getting support wins over in a family-friendly way. And every Muppet Show needs its star guest that allows us to rekindle our fond affection for the zany Jack Black comedy, who as the ‘kidnapped star victim’ actually plays against type in trying to escape. There are also a host of other celebrity appearances to boost the campaign too, while Cooper has a ball in true one-dimensional baddie mode trying to bring the curtain down on the night.
We defy anyone over the age of 30 not to get emotional when the lights do go up and Kermit takes the stage – after the inevitable speedy, made-for-TV tidy-up. With all the firm favourites united and back where they belong, and old and new tunes to inanely grin along to, the Segel-Bobin resurrection is nothing short of inspiring, thought provoking and filled with authentic affection, making it a trip out to the cinema not to be missed.