When last we saw the Muppets, it was 1999, we were following the muppets in to space and we were finally learning the secret behind Gonzo. And, let’s face it, audiences weren’t exactly clamoring to learn about Gonzo and his origin. Especially in the midst of game changing movies like “The Matrix” steamrolling theaters. This 2011 reboot basically acknowledges how antiquated the muppets have become in a society bred on computer animation and 3D and how dusty their parts have been in the face of a new generation. In spite of the nostalgia, the muppets aren’t exactly the most popular property out there and the makers behind this fully acknowledge that and create in the process a revival that’s both a tribute to the muppets and a hopeful restart of the franchise once and for all. I can’t be the only one hoping for new Kermit and Fozzy films.
A self aware and often self parodying musical comedy, “The Muppets” is a finely paced and very well written tale about Walter, a young muppet who isn’t quite aware he’s a muppet. He’s a felt young man with no nose who grew up with his friend Gary and they share some good times and bad times, including a love for the muppets show. Gary dreams of meeting the muppets one day and gets his wish when he tours the decrepit muppets studio. But when an evil tycoon named Tex Richman plans to tear down the studio, Gary and Walter, along with girlfriend Mary, decide to re-unite the muppets and raise money to keep the studio in tact. There’s an undercurrent of sadness to “The Muppets” mainly because writer Jason Segal doesn’t turn away from the fact that they’re not a very necessary nor popular part of pop culture anymore. He explores the new pop culture sensibility for flash and style while revealing the muppets as something of an old fashioned antique that has yet to find its place in our hearts.
But with an enthusiasm that fueled the franchise for many years under the late great Henson, Segal revives the characters once again in a new comedy formula that winks at the audience knowing it’s a movie while maintaining the old devices the original muppets movies did. That means, many characters get their time in the spotlight, and many celebrities make their appearance to give respect to the felt friends. Segal thankfully doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel, and instead focuses the film on revitalizing the muppets for a new era. He never tries to style up or modernize the friends, and instead just relies on their natural charisma and humor to win the audience over.
And it works. There won’t be a dry eye in the house when Kermit finally sings Rainbow Connection, and audiences will connect with Walter’s conundrum of finding his place in the world. Deep down while the film is basically an attempt at a new jumpstart for the muppets, it’s also a tribute to the spirit of Jim Henson whose fans refuse to let die, even in the of a changing set of standards for modern culture. “The Muppets” is a nice throwback to the muppets we know and love and it will assuredly speak to a new crowd as well as touch an old one. Jason Segal and co. do a bang up job of revitalizing the muppets for a new age, bringing to mind the old world formula that made these characters so successful in the first place, while blazing a trail for a modern revival, should Hollywood ever remember the magic that these characters once brought to a generation of children.