Monday, November 21, 2011
Welcome Back Muppets
Triumphant Return of The Muppets
By Skip Sheffield
Who doesn’t love The Muppets?
I sure do. The Muppets bring back fond memories of my three daughters growing up in Boca Raton, watching “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” on television.
Certainly I’m not alone in my nostalgic feelings, and that is exactly why the Jim Henson franchise is being rebooted by Disney in “The Muppet Movie.”
The motivating spirit behind this project to create a seventh Muppet movie 12 years after the last one is writer, actor and producer Jason Segel.
Segel is an avowed Muppets fan, and thanks to the success of his movies he has the clout and financial wherewithal to lead the charge.
Segel co-wrote The Muppet Movie with Nicholas Stoller, with whom he wrote “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.” He also stars as Gary, a Muppets fan from Smalltown USA who lives with his “brother” Walter, who is a newly-created Muppet character.
Like Pee-Wee Herman, Gary and Walter lived in a cute little cottage that is more like a boy’s clubhouse. Gary does have a girlfriend named Mary (Amy Adams), but they have been together ten years and Gary has yet to pop the big question.
The setting of Smalltown is like an idealized 1950s TV show, with vintage cars, mom-and-pop stores, and smiling citizens who sing and dance at the drop of a downbeat.
In Fact “Life’s a Happy Song” pretty much tells the story as a song sung by Gary and Walter and later an elaborate dance number in the town square. The song was written by musical director Bret McKenzie, who wrote or co-wrote several other new songs to add to the Muppets musical library.
The set up for the story is Gary’s decision to give Mary her dream trip to Los Angeles. When Walter learns Gary and Mary are going to Los Angeles, all he can think is that it is the home of the Muppet Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. At the last dramatic moment, Gary tells Walter he is going too. Soon a 1950s-vintage Greyhound bus pulls up, and they are off.
Muppet Theater is no longer a working studio, but a museum; a museum which is on its last legs. A wheezy old tour guide (Alan Arkin in the first of many guest star cameos) takes them on a tour of closed offices and broken attractions.
The Muppet Theater is about to be sold to oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who lets slip his real intention is to demolish the theater and drill for the oil he knows is below.
What is a Muppet to do? Put on a show, of course, to raise the $10 million it will take to buy the property. So begins a reintroduction to the Muppet characters, starting with an initially reluctant Kermit the Frog. You’ll have to see the movie to see all the comical details that go into reassembling the old gang, but trust me it is very clever and knowledgeable about musical comedy conventions, with characters breaking the fourth wall to talk about plot twists and motivations. I love the map travel concept. I’m surprised no one has thought of it before as a gag.
Muppets have never been real, but they have always represented the best of an optimistic, friendly, generous can-do America. Sly references to the current reality are many. I love that Fozzie the Bear is now performing with a Muppets tribute band call The Moopets. They are Muppets with a cynical edge, you see.
No, there is no room for cynicism in Muppetland, where even villains can see the light and get into the act. Yes, this movie will make tons of money for a corporation that already makes tons of money, but when it’s this much fun, I’ll let it pass. Jim Henson left this world in 1990 at the far too young age of 53. As long as Muppets can bring laughter and love, Jim Henson’s spirit will shine.