November 25, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE MUPPETS:  Watch It At Home – Nonstop Cuteness


When it was announced that Disney’s new movie of THE MUPPETS (the Mouse House bought the entire franchise from Jim Henson’s company some years ago) was going to be written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, previously behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall (and Stoller also directed Get Him To the Greek), and directed by James Bobin of Da Ali G Show and Flight Of the Conchords, the prospect of a reboot both fun and a little bit subversive was tantalizing.  Perhaps those old felt darlings could come back to life, kick-started in the way Ron Moore had given new life to Battlestar Galactica or Chris Nolan to Batman (except, you know, a little less viciously dark).  A Muppets that was looser and more improvisational, yet still with enough wholesomeness for the entire family.

What The Muppets is instead is… a Muppets movie.  Which is absolutely fine for the 7-year old goofball in all of us, but a little lame if you were hoping for more.  


Segel and Stoller have smartly approached the comeback of the Muppets with a story about the fuzzy crew needing exactly such a comeback.  In the story, the Muppets have mostly gone their separate ways:  Kermit still lives in their now disapidated mansion, but Miss Piggy has become a fashion editor, Fozzy performs in a Muppet tribute band, and so on.  When evil zillionaire Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to seize the land of the old Muppet Studios for the oil beneath it, the Muppets can only regain control by, darn it, getting back together and putting on a show.

The hokiness of all this, of course, is deliberate, and perfectly in keeping with Muppet tradition.  Where things go more than a little overboard is with the introduction of the major new characters:  human Gary (Segel) and his Muppet brother Walter (the story of how that came about would probably have been more interesting than this movie), as well as Gary’s longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), who naturally only exists in order to long for Gary to propose to her.  (Lest we worry that Gary and Walter share a man-felt love that truly dare not speak its name.)  When the three of them go on a trip to Hollywood, they become the catalysts for the Muppet reunion.  These three characters are so aw-shucks sweet and laboriously naive that the Muppets themselves seem like Quentin Tarantino characters in comparison.  Despite some bright songs (especially one for Gary and Walter by Bret McKenzie, also of Conchords, that’s probably the highlight of the entire movie), the three are all utterly one-dimensional and tiresome, without enough wit to be self-parodies.  That’s particularly disappointing in Adams’ case, because in Enchanted she did such a wonderful job of both embodying and satirizing family musical conventions at once, while Segel is just dull.  Bobin’s direction, conservative throughout, lets these scenes play out in broad sit-com style.

That doesn’t mean there’s no fun to be had at The Muppets.  For one thing, the return of the lovable Muppets themselves is certainly welcome, even though it’s odd not to hear Jim Henson’s and Frank Oz’s voices coming from Kermit and Piggy (it’s the same feeling you get watching one of the modern day Looney Toons shorts that don’t have Mel Blanc’s legendary vocals).  There are also some clever celebrity cameos, like Emily Blunt as Piggy’s assistant and Zach Galifianakis as a member of the show audience.  (And also more than a few utter throwaways, like appearances by Selena Gomez and Modern Family‘s Rico Rodriguez.)  Chris Cooper even gets to rap, quite possibly the last thing anyone ever expected to see him do on screen.

The Muppets is harmless and mildly enjoyable, with the emphasis on “mild.”  It’s the anti-Hugo:  one may be too Tiffany for many kids, while the other is a little too happy to be Wal-Mart.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."