Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Muppets

Alrighty, here we go. The Muppets. Bottom line. Absolutely back to the spirit of the classic Muppet movies and the television show. If you have any lingering affection for these creatures at all, you will enjoy it. I have a couple of quibbles, but the joy here is far too large to be undone.

There. If you plan to see it, that's all you need. Read nothing. Watch no clips. Just let the joy wash over you, then come back. You know, if you want. No one's making you, jeez!

And now, if you've seen it already, here's a closer look.

You know the story. Even if you'd never seen a trailer or read anything else about it, you could have guessed without much difficulty. The Muppet Studios in LA are about to be torn down by an evil oil magnate unless the Muppets can raise the $10 million needed to keep it. So they decide to put on a show - a telethon to raise the money. It all starts, however, with a man named Gary and his muppet brother Walter.

Walter is the Muppets' biggest fan. He grew up watching the show and the movies, and Kermit and the gang were his refuge when the world wasn't so kind to him. It's not easy bein' felt, yo. So when Walter gets a chance to go on a trip to Hollywood and visit the old Muppet Studio, it's the greatest day of his life. What he doesn't know until he gets there is that the studio has fallen on hard times. No one is there now except an old guide giving $5 tours, almost all the attractions are closed, and everything is in a serious state of disrepair and disuse. He sneaks into Kermit's old office and overhears a plan to turn the studios into a Muppet Museum, but that's just a cover. The greasy Tex Richman plans to tear everything down and dig for oil.

Walter is deeply upset - he screams for like five minutes - and he's determined to Do Something. He and Gary, along with Gary's lady friend Mary, find Kermit's house (or mansion, rather) and give him the bad news. Kermit is saddened but doesn't really know what can be done. He sings The Most Heartbreaking Song in the History of Time ("Pictures in My Head"), whose title I can't even type without tearing up. If you have ever had people who were once incredibly important to you and who you couldn't imagine drifting away from, only to find that eventually that's exactly what happens, this song was designed to make you cry like a crying crier who cries. I thought the transition into this song was a little weird and abrupt, but forgot all about it when the song started. Definitely the best of the new songs.

Kermit thinks it'll be impossible to get the gang back together, but Walter tells him he should at least try. So they hit the road (and eventually travel by map LOL) and track everyone down. Along the way, the usual Muppet story absurdities crop up - e.g., Gonzo and Scooter are doing pretty dang well, so couldn't they afford to pony up some money and at least put a dent in that $10 million? Who cares - we're going to put on a show, dangit! When they've gotten everyone back but Miss Piggy, Kermit shows a strange reluctance to go and find her.

And here's where the movie hit the biggest snag for me. I have always been a huge Kermit/Piggy fan. You might say they were the first couple I ever "shipped," and their romance has always been one of my favorite parts of the show and the movies. A love so powerful it transcended not only species but animal grouping, it was always fraught with conflict (mainly, I think, because she expended so much more energy on their relationship than he did). But it was just ... meant to be, you know? I'm fine with them having drifted apart, and I appreciate that they were genuinely trying to explore their relationship and make it feel real and textured. But the way the two characters are written here is just weird and doesn't feel like them at all. It's like it was written by someone who doesn't quite get what made them tick - like a Harmonian trying to write Ron/Hermione. Well, not quite that bad, but it just felt off, and that was kind of disappointing. I did mostly love the scene where they're walking the streets of Paris - she in a beret and he in a turtleneck, like they tripped and fell into a Jean-Luc Godard film. But again, the writing is not quite there. Perhaps it would have been a bit better if we'd seen flashbacks to what drove them apart instead of all the telling. I don't know. Minor quibble, I guess, but it felt major because it had to do with my favorite aspect of the movies/show.

BUUUUT, back to the good stuff. Kermit and the gang manage to get two hours of broadcast time for their telethon, even though everyone has told them they're not relevant and no one cares about them anymore. But they need a celebrity host, and no matter how many eighties stars Kermit calls (the only people in his Rolodex) no one is interested. They get desperate and decide to try and plead with Tex Richman, but he does an awesomely bad rap number about how that's not going to happen, and to top it off, he's not only going to take the theater, he's going to take the brand name and all the character names and start his own muppet show, with edgier muppets - to cater to the more cynical world they all now live in.

But hope is not lost, and in typical Muppet fashion, everything comes together at the last minute. I loved that the theater was empty at first, but that it filled up over the course of the two hours as people realized how much the Muppets had meant to them over the years. What I loved more was that people in my audience started singing along with the songs. Notably, the theme song ("It's time to play the music! It's time to light the lights!") and the One, the Only, don't pretend you don't know it's the Ultimate Heart-Tugger "The Rainbow Connection." If I thought I'd cried all my tears at "Pictures in My Head," I was so wrong. There are some wildly funny musical moments, too, such as the barber shop quartet singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl also has a cameo early in the film) and and Camilla and the chicken chorus doing CeeLo's ... I guess it would be "Cluck You." ;-)

I loved the message in the end, which, like all messages in Muppet movies, is pretty standard stuff but good to hear anyway. And the moment at the end, when Kermit opens the theater door, genuinely took me by surprise. And of course brought back ALL THE CREYS.

There are some excellent cameos, most of which I won't spoil, but - hey, you're not supposed to be reading this until you've seen it anyway! My favorite is Emily Blunt, giving a nod to her Devil Wears Prada character as Miss Piggy's assistant. Oh, and HELLO THERE, MICKEY ROONEY! He was a muppet before there were Muppets, don't you think? Loved all the throwbacks to old Muppet numbers (great use of "Mahna Mahna") and covers of famous songs, and I liked most of the new songs, too. I already mentioned "Pictures in My Head" and the lolarious Tex Richman Rap, but there's also "Me Party," which in addition to being a great disco sendup, is like the story of my life - pretty much every day is a Me Party. :P And there's a great Serious Character-Building Song called "Man or Muppet" (Jim Parsons, FTW!).

It's not perfect, even for a Muppet movie, but it's close enough. It's good to know that the world hasn't gone so far into the cynical that the Muppets can't bring us back to a place where genuine sweetness trumps trash and hipster ironic commentary.

No comments:

Post a Comment