When I walked into the theater, I immediately felt out of place. I was there with my two fraternity brothers, tough guys with a soft spot for The Muppets, but other than the three of us, not a single person looked to be between the ages of 12 and 35. Fearful that we’d made a bad decision we sat extremely close to the screen. Any farther back and our enormous, twenty-something bulks would’ve obscured the views of some innocent children. Necks craned into the ready position, we waited.
And soon found out that The Muppets was incredible! They made a serious marketing mistake by ignoring my demographic; the three of us laughed harder than anyone else in the theater. While the movie is light-hearted enough to appeal to children, it also spends a great deal of its time making fun of how ridiculously upstanding it is, all the while tossing in plenty of humor for adults. It’s the first movie I’ve ever seen in theaters where I walked out of there sure that only a monster could dislike such unadulterated greatness (my apologies to all you non-monstrous Muppet-dislikers out there. I’m sure you have good reasons).
The basic plot of this movie is genius. An oil Baron cleverly named Tex Richman is planning on buying the rights to The Muppets Studio, pretending that he wants to build a museum when really the studio sits on vast quantities of oil. He knows this because he “Can smell it. Also, the geological surveyors said there was.” Our hero and new addition to the Muppets cast, Walter, is the only one who overhears the evil madman, and it’s up to him to help get the Muppets back together for one last show so they can raise the ten million dollars necessary to buy back the studio and simultaneously prove that the Muppets still have what it takes in this ever-changing world.
The crew has to be tracked down, Animal must reacquire his inner rage in order to drum, Kermit and Ms. Piggy must reconcile their rocky relationship, a celebrity host must be secured, and Walter has to find a talent, all in two weeks!
One of the main reasons I got such a kick out of The Muppets is because it was relentlessly meta. I recently found out that this was a term unknown to my parental units, so for all you un-meta-educated out there, something is considered meta when it breaks the fourth wall. It describes that whole play-within-a-play routine where the characters are aware that they aren’t real and constantly acknowledge that it’s all just a show. In The Muppets, this manifests itself in a number of hilarious ways. For example, they’ll have a huge song and dance number, standard for a kids’ movie. But as soon as it ends, all the back-up dancers collapse in exhaustion, finally happy that the main characters are gone and their duties to the audience are over.
Even more amusing is when the two old guys (probably the funniest Muppets), read out the key details of the oil baron’s contract, stating that it’s fool-proof except for one minor detail. If the Muppets can manage to raise the money in time, they have first right of purchase. One old guy then says, “It sounds like you just explained an important plot point,” and the other responds, “I sure hope so! Otherwise I just bored the audience half-to-death for no reason!”
The movie falls into all the traps of an easy-to-follow children’s film, but it’s well-aware of it, and by pointing out its ridiculousness, The Muppets can have its cake and eat it too. The kids are happy with the simplistic plot, and the adults can crack up at the way that simple plot is parodied. In fact, the entire movie is one giant endeavor in meta-narrative. The film is about the Muppets being able to prove that they’re still relevant, that they can still make people laugh. They want to show the world that in a time when television and film are shifting toward either the unintelligent, irreverent comedy of things like Dinner of Schmucks, or the dark gritty edge of new superhero reboots, the wholesome and clever entertainment of the Muppets still has a place. Children are not as stupid as we think, and the Muppets believe they deserve well-written film with a positive message. In this case, that is the message, and The Muppets proves its point with every top-notch joke and clever spoof.
As you watch the film, you’re sure to enjoy it, and that very fact proves the film right. Realizing that will make you enjoy the film more, thus proving it right further. They’ve managed to create an endless feedback loop!
As always, Jason Segel is eminently lovable, and his man-child character is no different here. He plays Walter’s brother, and his conflict is that he cares too much about his furrier sibling, sometimes accidentally ignoring girlfriend Amy Adams. Chris Cooper’s Tex Richman is a fantastic villain, and his one song catches you totally off-guard, then proceeds to be hilarious. In fact, with the exception of one Ms. Piggy/Amy Adams duet that I found slightly off, the songs were fantastic.
Like I said, you will enjoy this movie, and the more of that childish joy you still have within yourself, the more you’ll like it. I would recommend this to everyone, and I’m doing so now (though if you’re extremely put-off by kids’ movies, you’ll probably just find it to be one of the more excellent examples of such, rather than anything that will knock your socks off). The film deftly balances genres, managing to be a perfect kids’ movie whilst simultaneously parodying dozens if not hundreds of movie conventions.
Alignment: Spectacular Fluff
This is the best thing Jack Black has done in so long. “Why are you cleaning me? You’re ruining my look!”