Friday, December 16, 2011

The Muppets 2011

Okay, I take it back. Movies made by fans, for fans, can actually be good. A list:

Beauty and the Beast theatrical re-release in January 2012! Yes, please, oh magic cardboard theatre cutout.

SO many commercials and previews. SO many. I wasn't bitchy enough to time them, but they seemed to last forever. They even included one short promotional interview for the very movie we were watching.

So, The Muppets is nominally a self-insert fan fiction, with a character named Walter, a puppet in a family of otherwise normal humans (it's best not to think too hard about that) who feels less alone when he discovers The Muppet Show. Walter becomes a total fanboy, never losing his enthusiasm even when he sets foot in the cobwebbed, decrepit mess that is the current Muppet Studios. When Walter overhears that human corporate overlord Tex Richman wants to destroy the theatre to drill for oil, he convinces Kermit to get the gang back together, and raise the money for buying the theatre back via a telethon, confronting the Muppets' supposed cultural irrelevance along the way.

Fortunately, except for the very early parts of the movie, the story becomes more about Kermit and the rest of the Muppets than about Walter. If a modern film about an older property has to display some self-awareness about various things, at least this time it's done pretty well.

Walter is obviously a stand-in for director Jason Segel, who also plays Walter's human brother and accomplice Gary. Segel is a huge Muppets fan and probably the reason why this movie feels so on-the-ball most of the time. Fans that make their professional way can get blinded by their own emotions instead of having distance from the material, and this film has been accused of just that, but I didn't find it too bad.

However, I cringed when they introduced Mary's character, Amy Adams playing Gary's long-suffering girlfriend who is worn out by the co-dependent relationship between the two brothers, and just wants Gary to propose. I expected her to be the standard fun-killing shrew that has concerns about boring old real life, while the male characters get on with the plot. She turned out to be nowhere near as bad as she could have been, because she actually does get invested in helping the Muppets and the role of the couple shrinks as the movie goes on, but Mary still was stuck in that role for a notable chunk of the time. Sure, anyone would get irritated at being a third wheel in their own relationship, but this has been done with female characters so many times that I'm sick of it.

Because the return of Miss Piggy was so climactic, they had to make her the only one who had a well-paying job, I suppose, but it seemed like she might be giving up the Vogue job for Kermit in the long run.

Both characters get the musical number "Me Time", where they sing about being happy to be alone, when they obviously aren't. Argh.

Tex Richman isn't very funny. I know he's supposed to be a parody, or maybe a parody of a parody, but he's just isn't a funny character--didn't make me laugh once. According to the extended soundtrack, he has a childhood grudge against the Muppets as well as an inability to laugh, which would have made him more interesting, at least.

I loved that after getting the major Muppets back together, somehow they just keep accumulating other Muppets in every new scene.

I hope the writers were being ironic with the line about Muppets not being enough for today's "cynical times". Because, wow, the Muppets could be pretty subversive, and subversion is bred partially from cynicism.

The film had a couple of nods to modern humour, with Camilla and the other Muppet chickens clucking to the tune of Ce Lo's "Fuck You", Tex Richman rapping, and a Barbershop Quartet version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", with the non-child friendly parts handled by Beaker. Richman's rap was probably the worst, the Ce Lo bit was shocking but hidden well enough, and the Nirvana one was so bizarre it was pretty good.

Uncle Deadly is still my favourite Muppet, above the more fleshed-out ones: face of a monster, voice of a ham, soul of a thespian: don't mess with him. I loved it when he turned on Richman and knocked him off the tower. (Were Uncle Deadly's feet and tail based off of the Palisades figure from a few years back? Also, does anyone else feel like re-interpreting the "Steppin' Out" figure variant as his business-suited self from this movie?)

All of the sound-alikes in this film are good. I probably was in that sweet spot of being aware enough of the Muppets to enjoy the movie steeped in Muppet fandom, but not enough that I was all that picky about characterization or the new voices.

I had not heard "The Rainbow Connection" in years, but during the scene I was just riveted. Wow. Actually, it characterized the whole movie experience for me: it made me feel a nostalgia I never thought I had, so that I left the theatre smiling. Also with "Mahna, Mahna" stuck in my head. Like that.

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