Disney bought The Muppets from the Jim Henson Company back in 2004, realising that with their long-lasting popularity, they might be a good addition to the Disney universe. However since then the House Of Mouse hasn’t seemed entirely sure what to do with them. While they’ve tried several things over the years, the problem seems to have been Disney trying to shoehorn the characters into the way they deal with their other properties, rather than letting them be themselves.
It’s one of the reason The Muppets works so well, as it realises that Kermit & co. live in a netherworld between children’s and adult’s entertainment, where nostalgia is as important as silly jokes for kids. Likewise it acknowledges that part of the reason for the characters’ success is the fine line they walk between absurdity and realism, which works due to an absolute commitment to the idea Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear are real, while everything around them has a self-referential wink.
Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the script) is Gary, who’s now in his 30s but still sleeping in the same bedroom as his brother Walter. As part of the aforementioned touch of absurdity alongside a committed belief in The Muppets being real, Walter is a puppet, but this is never mentioned, and no one seems to find it odd that a real human would have a felt brother. Gary and Walter are inseparable, something that’s starting to get in the way of Gary’s relationship with Mary (Amy Adams), as she’d like him to put her first sometimes.
Walter is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a massive Muppet fan and is thrilled when Gary agrees to take him on a trip to LA, along with Mary, where they can visit the Muppet Studio. However when they get there, the studio is falling to bits, there are no Muppets to be seen, and worst of all, Walter overhears oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) planning to pull down the studio so he can drill underneath it. The only hope is to raise $10 million in the next few days.
This becomes the catalyst for a quest to reunite the Muppets – who are now spread across the world and haven’t worked together for years – and put on a telethon to in the hope of saving the theatre. However with Gary and Walter becoming ever more engrossed in their attempts to help the Muppets, Mary begins to feel that maybe she’ll never be able to compete.
While the plot is pretty clichéd, the film knows that and mainly uses it as a backdrop to allow The Muppets to do their thing. The story is there to inject a bit of heart into things, while the likes of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo bring their anarchic style back to the silver screen. With its silly sense of humour, self-knowing attitude (with numerous references to the fact it knows it’s a movie), it’s a movie that’s deliberately daft but a lot fun.
To be honest, for the first three-quarters of an hour, I was starting to feel a little let-down, as the set-up drags and feels a little meandering. However once it’s gotten that out of the way, the movie comes alive, particularly when we get into the Muppet theatre and the telethon begins. The last hour is joyous, with the perfect level of nostalgia for the original Muppet Show mixed with a realisation that 2012 is a rather different world. Indeed, you can tell that it’s this that Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller are most excited to recreate, making something that is both a misty-eyed look back at childhood memories, a recognition that the Muppets have been off our screens for years as well as trying to give things a modern sensibility.
It doesn’t work all the time, and indeed for my money, on-screen Jason Segel is the weak link. He looks like he’s having a whale of a time, but there’s just a touch too much of an OTT kid’s TV feel about his acting here. Muppets work best with performers who treat them as if they were normal people – just see Michael Caine in Muppets Christmas Carol and Orson Welles in The Muppet Movie – but Segel doesn’t quite manage that, instead injecting his performance with a slightly cartoony element. It’s not an issue Amy Adams has, as following the likes of Enchanted she’s something of an expert in treating the fantastical as something absolutely natural. Segel isn’t bad, but it is a shame he couldn’t have toned it down a bit.
That said, it’s a minor annoyance and overall the film is great. Kermit and his coterie are on top form, and they’re given a great showcase to prove why they should be on our screens a lot more. They’re such wonderfully rounded, individual characters – with hopes, dreams and foibles – you can’t help but love them. And of course they’re very funny!
The Blu-ray picture quality is great, with wonderful clarity and bright colours. The sound is also good, showing off the amusing, Oscar-winning songs (there are several absolutely inspired musical numbers). However the thing that really sets Blu-ray apart from the DVD are the special features. On DVD you just get the highly amusing ‘The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History*) *We Think’, but the Blu-ray adds in a lot more, all of which is gold.
The ‘Scratching The Surface: A Hasty Examination Of The Making Of The Muppets’ Featurette is wonderful. Seen through the eyes of a Muppet monster who’s working on the film, it mixes interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and a silly, overblown voiceover to create something funny and incredibly watchable. Likewise the deleted scenes and full version of Tex Richman’s song is great fun, as is the commentary. It’s all good stuff and definitely worth looking through.
Overall Verdict: While it has its flaws, the exuberance and humour of The Muppets more than compensates for that. An immensely fun family film on a great Blu-ray disc.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac