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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 16, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

‘The Muppets’: Felt friends stand test of time

The Muppets dust off the cobwebs and bring their show to the big screen once again as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of the cast prove their combination of diverse characters, excellent punch lines and crazy performances hold up over the years in “The Muppets.”

Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) is a brand-new Muppet and a hardcore fan of the original Muppet Show from the late 1970s. So much so, that when his human brother, Gary (Jason Segel), and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), invite Walter to join them on their anniversary trip to Hollywood, all he can think about is seeing the original Muppets Studio. While there, Walter learns of a sinister plot by oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to tear down the studios to drill for oil. The three embark on a journey to find Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets so they can throw one more fundraiser show to get their theater back.

The Muppets stick close to their traditional style, framing comedy variety acts and song-and-dance numbers within a simple story. The songs range from peppy, upbeat tunes about friendship to a spontaneous rap solo from Richman and Kermit’s classic, “The Rainbow Connection.” The integration of songs falls in line with traditional Disney musicals, but screenwriters Segel and Nicholas Stoller use meta-humor by poking fun at the movie’s own style and structure. When the lengthy production of “Life’s a Happy Song” concludes, the backup dancers break character and sigh with relief after the long dance number. This turn of the musical appeals to an adult audience as well.

“The Muppets” does not deviate from the group’s traditional comedy-skit style, but the writing and the skits themselves are fresh and clever, including kidnapping ninja Muppets parodying old-school Kung Fu films and edgy barbershop quartets. Gonzo flies and hangs out with the singing chickens, Fozzie has his bad jokes and Miss Piggy is as sassy as ever.

Walter is likable enough, partially because his story about growing up and believing in yourself is integral to the overall narrative. He has amusing lines and scenes, such as a montage of his face contorted hilariously into a long scream. Walter contributes enough to the film to make him welcome.

Thanks to the amazing puppeteers behind them, the Muppets teem with life. Meanwhile, the humans adopt simple stock character types — the romantic couple and the greedy villain, for example. In a way, the human leads — with their expressive faces, bright wardrobes and sunny demeanors — become Muppets themselves. This theme is reinforced when Gary sings to a Muppet version of himself in a mirror, and he and Walter ask whether they are a “Manly Muppet” or a “Muppet of a Man.” This uniformity among the Muppets and the
human stars and cameos further contributes to the overall Muppet Show entertainment.

“The Muppets” manages to keep the best traditions of the decades-long Muppets legacy. The film is downright fun, even if just because of the nostalgia it evokes for the classic show.

“The Muppets” was directed by James Bobin and written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.

4 out of 4 stars.