Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: The Muppets (2011)

My girlfriend and I watched The Muppets with my niece (7 years old) and my nephew (5 years old).  Of the four of us, I can firmly state that I enjoyed it the least.  You have to keep in mind however that I am the person who on my first day as an intern at The Walt Disney Company told everyone in the group that I don’t like animated movies.  So you can imagine that I might be biased against movies featuring puppets (original Yoda excluded of course).  Believe me when I tell you that no one at Disney is losing sleep over the fact that I (as well as my male counterparts above the age of 30) was not enthralled by the new adventures of Kermit and his cohorts.  I am most definitely not in their target audience, but rather just the vehicle by which their target audience can get to the movies (and later purchase their consumer products).

The preceding paragraph makes it sound like I am about to go on a diatribe against all things Disney, but to the contrary I am going to say that the film, which made it onto screen (and soon to be on Blu-Ray) is a tribute to Jason Segel because according to most accounts, the project was a labor of love for Segel that took years to bring to fruition.  Furthermore, both he and Amy Adams do an admirable job of placing themselves in the world of the Muppets as both actors and singers.  Not too far behind is Jack Black who is completely off the wall in this film and clearly has a ton of fun playing himself – channeling that same energy that he brought to School of Rock.  As for the other live principle cast member - Chris Cooper, at times he is awkward and a bit over the top even for a movie such as this one, but he does just enough not to fumble the ball.

So you might be wondering then, why I am so lukewarm about the movie.  Let me explain.  I would venture a guess that right up until the opening credits roll, most people are not aware that Disney had bought the rights to all things Muppets.  I would also venture a guess that after seeing the movie, most people still don't know this.  I wonder if possessing this bit of information in advance of the movie resulted in something akin to the placebo effect, because I could not shake the feeling that something was missing in the first Jim Henson-less Muppet production.  The voice work by Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, et al is solid if not very good and the song numbers are fun.  Director James Bobin and company even throw in a ton of celebrity cameos as cookies for the adults viewers (i.e. Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, NPH, and David Grohl).  I suspect that what may have been missing is the love and passion for the Muppets that could only be mustered up by the man who created them.  In looking back, it was most obviously the key to the Muppets' success.

At the end of the day, it is by no means a bad movie.  Kermit, Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, et al are up to their usual tricks.  Kids will enjoy the hijinx and adults will experience a nice sense of nostalgia as the creative team has made sure to include all the song you'd expect to hear while mixing a few new ones.  I don’t know that I would heartily recommend renting or buying this movie (available on Tuesday, March 20th) for an adult only audience, but if you have children, nieces, nephews, and/or grandchildren, it is a nice way to spend two hours and a good transition into talking about some of your own experiences from your salad days. 

Standout PerformanceAnimal (Eric Jacobson).  The suddenly tame drummer gets all the best lines.  Honorable Mention goes to The Moopets.


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