The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011)

by December 2, 2021 6 minutes (1448 words) (Glorious) 35mm New Beverly Cinema

Ah, finally, after having been summarily rejected for months now from my local entertainment centers as one of the unclean (you all know what I’m talking about, and if you disagree, feel free to move along and push your corporate-created fascism somewhere else, thank you very much), my trip to Cali last fall not only afforded me the pleasures of a welcome return to the deeply-rooted comforts of the darkened rep cinema – as anyone who knows me (or even occasionally stumbles across my scribblings on my facebook page), that be my house of worship — but even better, doing it with a visit to an actual mecca of cinematic glory – ie, the House that Quentin built (which always includes all those fun trailers and, in this specific case, an enjoyable old-school pre-feature “Tom & Jerry” cartoon) – and with just the kind of movie to tickle my nostalgic fancy, namely, a Muppet movie, one that I’d never seen before.

Following young Walter, having grown up having no idea why he has always felt so ‘different’ from everyone else until the fateful day him and his loyal friend and brother, the dopey yet equally lovable Gary (Jason Segel, who I’ll always love as the stoner on the short-lived yet great tv show “Freaks and Geeks” that a very kind ex-girlfriend intro’d me to a few years back, but have basically not followed at all since and was surprised to learn not only was he one of the screenwriters on this, but also was really a champion for getting it made, and that’s with initially not even having planned on acting in it! Like his character, he’s a genuine Muppets champ! I like it!) come across the original “The Muppets Show” playing on television (and it’s snippets from the actual original variety show, in all its meta-style glory, with both the show and the equally-fictional making of the show all going on in the same episodes… which reminds me, I really need to delve back into these shows and try and get my daughter in there with me!) has him (and Gary) realizing who he is (and why he has been staying at exactly the same height when him and his normally growing brother keep checking in the doorway every year – just one of any number of amusing Muppet-centric sight-gags the film is filled with); a Muppet, obviously!

Heading out to LA with brother Gary (where I was when I watched the movie! Excuse excited editorial note, but this is my write-up after all) – and Gary’s slightly bemused, but ever-patient (though getting close to the breaking point) fiancée (the adorable Amy Adams), with this trip actually supposed to be there first adventure out of their small town together – and the first time away from his brother, ever (is it just me, or do these kid-friendly films always seem to have some weird underlying perversities going on in them?) – Walter ends up, with the help of the two, getting swept up on an unwitting mission to not only restore the long-decayed Muppets studio from being taken over by greedy oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, hamming it with infectious glee) but to re-unite the disbanded and dispirited Muppets, bringing them back into all their audience-adoring Muppet glory. Of course, along the way, in true family friendly style, there’s some poignant little life lessons on growing up, accepting who you are (as a means of becoming who you are) – oh, and paying attention to your neglected fiancée!

While I can do without all the obligatory three second cameos by fashionable celebs (especially with just about the entirety coming at me right out of the Hollywood Gibble elite, annoying me with the reminder of their status as self-congratulating corporate identity-politic faux liberals – I mean, did we really need to see James Carville?), alas, those quick bits have unfortunately always been part of the Muppet lore (so I guess I can grin and bear them – and I will say, Jim “The Big Bang Theory” Parsons was so perfect a choice in his cameo as the human version of Walter, it’s almost surreal!) and overall this entry doesn’t quite measure up to Muppets greatness – for instance, the musical numbers might be passable enough, they just aren’t particularly memorable (with one exception — Cooper’s wildly entertaining and catchy rap anthem ode to his rich self, “Let’s Talk About Me” which I keep going back to on YouTube) and the humor, while never dull, is a bit on the too family-friendly soft side for me (at this point, after the raucous 2015 version of the show with its far more ribald take on these felt-skinned puppets, which interestingly is how creator Jim Henson always intended them to be, before they got away from him and morphed into the kid-friendly, if still really clever and memorable, versions they became), overall — maybe it was the simple joy of being back in the theater, with my daughter, her friend and ex-wife chomping on their popcorns in those ridiculously Godzilla-sized portion bags around me (as well as one of those big theater-sized boxes of milk duds – a first time for my daughter and it was love at first bite) and watching the antics up there on the screen of all my fave Muppets, a bunch of mostly hand-puppets that somehow have always magically come alive, from Fozzie Bear delivering his godawful stand-up routines, wild-Muppet Animal getting back into some furious drumming (after having been snuck out of an anger management camp by Walter and crew), those wonderfully acerbic two old guys (who I have always loved) – take-offs I believe on celebrity critics of the day Siskel & Ebert – sitting back and sarcastically commenting at every turn… and of course – the obviously hand-faced green guy Kermit himself, and that object of his desire, the vanity-crazed Miss Piggy (how the creators manage to get past outrage cancel culture folks with that character is anyone’s guess, but more power to them!) – and let’s not forget my very favorite of all The Muppets, the soulful, ever-relaxed piano playing Rowlf the Dog (who has one of my favorite throw-away gags in the movie, in which he suddenly wonders out loud on why the back story of his escape back into the Muppets fold wasn’t shown like the others, as he opines how exciting it was -– to which they quickly flashback to the event, which was him snoring on a cot with the arriving Muppets standing over him, about to wake him… okay, it plays funnier when you see it, but it is really funny).

Even the dreaded Jack Black, an ever-mugging actor I despise on the level of Adrien Brody (with Black having singlehandedly tried his very best to destroy one of the greatest lines in cinema history “T’was beauty that killed the beast!” in his horridly soulless performance as Carl Denham in Peter Jackson’s fairly awful King Kong remake – thankfully the power of Robert Armstrong’s original performance is simply way too strong for Black to have retroactively ruined it — a remake that was equally marred, coincidentally, by the presence of the awful Brody) – is actually kinda funny in manic moments, having been kidnapped from his trailer on a movie set by the Muppets as the guest (unwilling as he may be) they desperately need to put on a return show that might save their studio, with Black amusingly trying to get the uncomprehending audience to understand he’s actually there against his will (in that continued clever meta-style that defines the whole Muppet-verse); a rare inexplicable shining moment for Black (I guess you could say similar to the one Brody just as unexpectedly had with his hilariously indulgent cameo turn as the surrealist Salvador Dalí in Woody Allen’s wonderful Midnight in Paris).

By the end, I was swept right along with the poignant feelings of Walter, finally finding his home, and Gary, learning to accept that his brother doesn’t quite need him anymore like he used to (though that chick standing next to him does). And the capper on the day? With the Saturday afternoon screening over, our bellies full, funny bones tickled and emotional centers touched (a bit, a bit!), on our way back to our airbnb in the Hollywood Hills (I splurged)… by pure happenstance, as I had no idea it was there, we drove right by Jim Henson’s actual Muppets studio – the one featured right in the film — with the big replica statue of Kermit on top and all. Of course, we stopped and took some photos. Sublime.

Buck A Review   animation   comedy   jim henson   the muppets