Maybe it was the wine (thanks, Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, for your always wonderful food service!), but as I watched The Muppets, I could not stop smiling.
I admit it: I was nervous before the film began. The Muppets hold so much cultural cachet: would the characters hold up over so many years? Or was my ostensibly eternal love for Rowlf and Fozzie Bear nothing more than a nostalgic glance back at the good ol’ days of television? Thankfully, it was the former. This modern incarnation of The Muppets takes the best of the old school – the characters, the mannerisms, the corny jokes – and deftly meshes it with the new.
Jason Segel, who also wrote the film, stars as Gary, brother to a Muppet super fan (and puppet) named Walter. The two head to Los Angeles from their home in Smalltown – yes, really – with Gary’s girlfriend of ten years (Amy Adams) for a quick vacation and to see the famous Muppet Studios, a pilgrimage of sorts for Walter. The plot continues somewhat predictably: the studios are in ruins, an oil magnate (played by an ornery Chris Cooper) hatches a plan to buy the studios in order to drill for oil beneath them, and – of course – the Muppets have two weeks to raise $10,000,000 to buy back the studio.
So, if you’re a Muppet, how do you do that? You already know the answer. You get the old gang back together for a telethon to raise some cash. But as predictable as the plotline is, Segel’s script avoids feeling formulaic because it pokes fun at the tropes we’ve come to recognize time and time again. We all know the comedy is corny, but it’s delivered with a wink and a nod. We’re all in on the joke.
And fortunately, those moments of parody also help the film avoid feeling too maudlin. The Muppets does carry the risk of sentimentality; after all, the film is entirely an exercise in nostalgia. And I will readily admit to tearing up at a few poignant moments. But whenever The Muppets dips a toe into the schmaltzy, it’s only a brief dip, and we’re quickly returned to laughter.
Segel and the Muppets aren’t the only ones delivering laughs. The film boasts an incredible ensemble of heavy comedic hitters, including Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Ken Jeong, Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, Eddie Pepitone, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Whoopi Goldberg, and more.
I can’t recommend this film enough. You will laugh, you might tear up, and you’ll be warmly reminded of the halcyon days of The Muppet Show on Saturday nights. But that might also just be the wine.