I grew up watching the Muppets. Even more than Sesame Street or even Fraggle Rock I remember them, their antics, their quirks and their adventures better than just about any other childhood entertainment. I loved The Muppet Show, I watched The Jim Henson Hour with the same fervor and I was such a fan of Muppet Babies that I can still sing the entire theme song from rote. As such, the Muppets hold such a dear place in my heart that I will gladly go to see any new movie with them. Enter 'The Muppets', the first Muppet movie to be released since the mid-90’s which means that any fan of the Muppets will automatically have to see it at some point. Given that fact and the assumption that they could have pasted together a couple of hastily written musical numbers and filled the rest of the time with cameos you gotta respect everybody who made this project for really putting their all into it. Whatever criticism I may have of it is made with the acknowledgement that it is a real movie and not a cheap ploy to squeeze hard-earned cash out of hard-core fans.
That being said, I personally found this to be the saddest Muppet movie of all the Muppet movies to date. And yes, I know that I’m a complete child for this, but I teared up a number of times throughout the movie. Why, you may wonder? Because it begins with the terribly incorrect premise that The Muppets have somehow been forgotten, become obsolete or are unwanted. It’s like the “clap if your hands if you believe in fairies” thing only we were never given the opportunity to clap.
The plot itself is thankfully a little more complicated than just disproving that point. The movie begins with the introduction to Walter, a muppet in a human family. Walter’s got one huge problem growing up in what otherwise seems to be a pretty great life in Smalltown: he’s a muppet. His top height is about two and half feet. So he can’t ride the rollercoaster, ride a bike or play sports with the other kids. His older brother Gary (later played by Jason Segel) is incredibly devoted to him, opting out of other activities that Walter can’t be a part of so that he won’t be left out. But the overall feeling we get from Walter is that of longing to be accepted, to be a part of.
When Walter and Gary discover The Muppet Show Walter is awestruck and the two of them instantly become the show’s greatest fans. Walter especially looks at them as the family he so desperately needs in order to gain that ever-elusive feeling of belonging and spends most of his life growing up with the dream of someday meeting them all.
Fast forward ten years and Gary is celebrating his tenth anniversary with his girlfriend Mary (the adorable Amy Adams) by taking her to LA for a romantic dinner and vacation. Still living with his muppet brother after all these years he of course plans to bring him along, much to Mary’s chagrin. They arrive in LA and head straight to Muppet Studios which have closed down and fallen into a state of disrepair, and all of the Muppets are nowhere to be found (the premise I mentioned earlier). Walter decides to snoop around in Kermit’s old office and discovers the bad guy (a very enjoyable Chris Cooper) and primary plot point of the movie: a rich oil tycoon is buying the theater with plans of demolishing it in order to dig for oil underneath. Walter, being the devoted fan that he is, sets out to find the Muppets, warn them, and help them save the theater.
I will direct you to Wikipedia for the rest of the plot synopsis and move on to the critique. As I said earlier, despite the familiar characters, jokes, gags and references (traveling by map, “let’s use a montage”, etc) I would label this as the saddest of the Muppet movies. When we first see Kermit he is living in solitude, mourning the loss of his muppet family. Why? They never explain it. But we see the rest of the characters being gathered back together from a number of depressing states (Fozzie seems to have it the worst, living in Reno and staring with troupe of muppet impersonators). The worst estrangement was that of Kermit and Miss Piggy who have seemingly divorced in all but name, again for reasons that are never explained. I refuse to believe that I am the only person who found their wedding in The Muppets Take Manhattan to be one of the most romantically satisfying of all time and to suddenly find them not on speaking terms with not so much of a passing mention ast to why was a little traumatizing.
All that being said, it’s still completely endearing in the way that you would expect a Muppet movie to be. The gang reunites, Gary resolves his codependency with his brother and devotes himself to Mary and Walter finds that sense of belonging he so desperately needs. And the finale? The finale made me cry harder than any of the sad stuff because the Muppets are reminded of how truly loved they are and always have been. In that respect the resolution is certainly satisfying and you could make the argument that I should have known all would be forgiven when I found myself getting super sad over the state of things at the beginning. And you could also point out the fact that in that same movie I mentioned earlier they all went their separate ways in a very sad stretch of screen time before they got back together to 'take Manhattan' anyway, so it’s not even like it’s a new plot device. Well, to that I say: “I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now!”
Ah-hem, but I digress. Whatever issues I may have I will point out that they are my issues and I can’t imagine that other viewers would be nearly as upset as I was. And in terms of musical numbers, character arcs, and good ol’fashioned triumph over meanies it’s a great picture. But the most important fact, the reason that every Muppet fan will want to see it, and the main point of resolution for the whole thing is right there in the title. Seeing our old friends back in action and doing what they do best is the greatest thrill of all.