The Muppets

by - Wednesday, December 07, 2011

This weekend, Nick and I finally went to see the Muppets. I would say, this is the only movie that came out this year that I was dying to see. I wanted to see it with my family over Thanksgiving, because I come from a long line of Muppet lovers, but alas we didn't get to see it until all the dust settled from Thanksgiving. I went into that theater, ready to guffaw it up, especially because I love Jason Segal, but I honestly came out of it disappointed. I liked it plenty, but I didn't love it like I thought I would. 

I don't want it to come off like the movie isn't good- it mostly is, and it's probably the best comedy I have seen this year. Anything with Chris Cooper rapping can't be wrong. I also loved the twist at the end and the film's constant 4th-wall breaking self-knowingness. It also gives the Muppets a deep emotional resonance coming straight out of our general cultural nostalgia. When you hear that banjo at the beginning of Rainbow Connection, it actually can choke you up. Way more than it would if you just watched the original Muppet Movie. 

I think partially that is the beauty and curse of the movie; it just makes you so aware of how much you miss the Muppets. You can tell the film makers genuinely love these characters, but as can often be the downside in stories that are so nostalgic, the film doesn't soothe or satiate the loss, it only makes you so aware of how much you miss it. I came out of the movie wanting to watch old episodes of the Muppet Show. It's not a bad thing, but it's not the same as leaving and wanting to see the movie again.

Still, the Muppets in the movie are fabulous. Even the new muppet character they brought in was pretty sweet and effective. They all felt very true to the Muppets- on the other hand, the humans really screw with the tone (did I mention that I love Jason Segal? I really do. I like Amy Adams a lot too). I felt like they were way too campy, as if they were trying to act as Muppets, so rather than adding a level of reality, they took away from the nuance of the Muppets emotion. I know that humans can have numbers in Muppet Movies and that they can be over the top, but I think the most fun Muppet films actually have somewhat realistic humans, or at least human humans. Even in something like Muppet Treasure Island, the characters have a grounding influence on the puppets. 
Here, the introduction is way over the top, and Amy Adams has a number in the diner that makes me want to whack myself in the face. It reminds me of Enchanted, where she is an animated character in a real body. Here the humans are the same way, and the puppets are real within animated bodies. It creates this very awkward tone, where the stakes never feel real and the characters actually push you away from caring about them.

It made me think of a Muppet Christmas Carol, where Michael Caine interacts so effectively with the Muppets. They add magic and heart to his existence. Gary and Mary are already cartoons, so what do the muppets really add? The acting is so campy that it is both narratively useless and borderline bad. Again, I did not hate this movie, but it reminded me of Steve Martin and Kermit or Tim Curry or so many other great performances. So, I am going to get out my DVD's of the Muppet show, and see if I can't ask for the old Muppet movies for Christmas. 
Also, Nick pointed out that the movie fails the Bechdel test. The 2 female characters never speak to each other and they only talk about their relationships. Which isn't that surprising considering all things/ who wrote it. So all in all, a mixed bag. Still tremendously better than Cowboys and Aliens.

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