Jim Henson created the Muppets in the mid-1950s, and they gradually made their way to success, gaining widespread recognition on Sesame Street, but also making frequent appearances on the first season of Saturday Night Live. Their apotheosis occurred in the late 1970s/early 1980s with The Muppet Show, a bizarre faux variety show that saw everyone from Bob Hope to Alice Cooper guest-star1. It led to a very successful Muppet Movie.

Several lesser films followed, along with music, other series, and merchandise.

They’ve been out of the limelight since 19992; this film gives them another shot at fame. It’s not perfect, but it has been made by people who understand why the Muppets succeeded in the first place.

Title: The Muppets

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stroller, based on characters created by Jim Henson
Jason Segel as Gary
Amy Adams as Mary
Peter Linz as Walter
Chris Cooper as Tex Richman
Steve Whitmire as Kermit / Beaker / Statler / Rizzo / Link Hogthrob / The Newsman
Eric Jacobson as Miss Piggy / Fozzie Bear / Animal / Sam Eagle / Marvin Suggs
Dave Goelz as Gonzo / Dr. Bunsen Honeydew / Zoot / Beauregard / Waldorf / Kermit Moopet
Bill Barretta as Swedish Chef / Rowlf / Dr. Teeth / Pepe the Prawn / Bobo / Fozzie Moopet
David Rudman as Scooter / Janice / Miss Poogy
Matt Vogel as Sgt. Floyd Pepper / Camilla / Sweetums / 80’s Robot / Lew Zealand / Uncle Deadly / Crazy Harry
Rashida Jones as Veronica Martin
Jack Black as himself

Additional cast and crew information (including a tonne of celebrity cameos) may be found here.

Premise:

When three small towners uncover a plot to destroy the Muppets’ old theatre and replace the retired troupe with “edgey” contemporary namesakes, they get Kermit and the gang together to stand for Muppetry.

High Points:

How did Henson and company do it? The Muppets combined two things that were hopelessly out of date—-puppets and vaudeville— told dumb jokes, engaged in silly slapstick, and yet somehow out-hipped the hipsters.

The people behind the movie understood that changing the essential core Muppetness of the characters wouldn’t work. Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, and the others continue to engage in the old shtick, vaudeville by puppets filtered through someone’s hallucinations or dreams. They do these things throughout the film, and they get laughs far more often than they should.

As a bonus, we get a subplot (less developed than it should be) about the villain’s replacements for the Muppets, who parody what lesser talents would have done with the franchise.

Low Points:

1. The film entertains, but it’s very much pop culture, transitory, fleeting. For example, Jim Parson’s cameo appearance gets laughs, much of them from the actor’s performance—but quite a few simply because he is Jim Parsons, echoing (though not slavishly imitating) his Big Bang character. The film ends with, essentially, an in-joke.

2. Also—the film features a few too many musical numbers.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 We have an exercise in nostalgia and goofiness that certainly works on its own terms, but stays a little too close to its source material.

Effects: 5/6 The Muppets have to be puppets to work—but the wires have disappeared.

Story: 4/6 How does one assess the story to a Muppet movie? These guys eat plot logic for breakfast.

Acting: 5/6 The characters have a built-in flatness, but I find it remarkable how much the audience reacts as though these creatures are somehow real.

Production: 6/6 Disney owns the non-Sesame and non-Fraggle Rock Muppets, and they have a lot of money to spend on reviving the franchise.

Emotional Response: 6/6 The kids will love the slapstick and idiotic shenanigans. Old fans will recall why they liked the Muppets in the first place. The film breaks no new ground, but it’s an enjoyable family movie, and I laughed out loud a number of times.

Overall: 5/6

In total, The Muppets receives 33/42.

Notes

1. Not to mention John Cleese, Debbie Harry, Johnny Cash, Christopher Reeve (fresh from his success in Superman), Spike Milligan, Lena Horne, Mummenschanz, Sylvester Stallone….

2. Yes, they had two made-for-television, straight-to-DVD releases in the early 2000s. Hands up if you saw either.