Friday, November 25, 2011

The Muppets

The Muppets
seen @ Main Street Cinemas, Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY

At what point in my life did I drift away from the Muppets? It probably began after Jim Henson's death. I remember how heartbroken I was over that, and I suppose a part of me thought the Muppets that I knew died with him as well, even though I knew that wasn't true. It might've been the excuse for me to consciously or unconsciously relegating them to childhood, where I thought they belonged.

I remember watching The Muppet Show every weeknight at 7:30 without fail. It didn't matter if I hadn't finished my homework or my dinner, I'd be there, parked in front of the TV. There were plenty of shows from my youth that I watched and enjoyed, but few inspired this kind of fanatical loyalty. As much as I liked watching Happy Days or Laverne & Shirley, for example, shows like that never captured my imagination in the same way The Muppet Show did. You never knew what kind of madcap sketches they'd come up with next, nor would you know how the show's dynamic would change with each guest star. I suspect most people who grew up with the show feel similarly.

Then Henson died, and while I knew in my head that the Muppets would go on without him... I couldn't. What they say about Muppet fans revering Henson is absolutely true. You couldn't listen to him speak without hearing Kermit's voice; you couldn't watch him talk about the Muppets without seeing the devotion and passion he brought to their creation; you couldn't watch other Muppeteers like Kevin Clash without seeing how much he inspired them. I remember seeing an exhibit at the Museum of Television and Radio in Manhattan devoted to him not long after he died, and feeling reconnected to him and to the Muppets for a little while. When they started making new movies without Henson, though, that changed. I didn't think it was "wrong" as in disrespectful, but more like "wrong" as in awkward, almost unnatural. I remember hearing Kermit's new voice for the first time and thinking, no, that's not right. Irrational? Yeah, I suppose. But that's how closely I identified with the Muppets.

The newer movies held no great interest for me as a result, and eventually I settled the Muppets in a corner of my mind and left them there. Then I heard that a new movie was being made, with some guys I wasn't familiar with writing it. Feelings of mistrust immediately arose within me. Who is this Jason Segal and what makes him think he can write a Muppet movie? Still, it sounded like he wanted to get back to basics and he clearly loved the Muppets too... so I figured he should get the benefit of the doubt.

The Muppets did feel like a homecoming of sorts. The meta-textual nature of the script - in which the Muppets are as passe in their own universe as they had become in ours - certainly speaks to old-time fans like me, as does the reverence for the original TV show. The humor seems evocative of the first Muppet movie in places, and it even establishes a continuity to it. And there were some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, as well as some deeply sentimental ones.

For all that, though, I couldn't give in to it completely. Some of the songs were mediocre (Chris Cooper rapping? Really?!) and the pacing felt a little too quick, for starters. Why did the story's main conflict resolve itself with a closing credits post-script? Plus, I was hoping the Muppets would rate a higher level of celebrity cameos, in more substantial roles. I mean here, some of the cameos went by too fast and others were barely acknowledged!

Bottom line, though, The Muppets is a nice, enjoyable little love letter to these iconic characters and their wonderful TV show. It may not stack up to The Muppet Movie, but then, that set the bar so very high that the only way to reach it would be to resurrect Henson himself. (I totally want an 80's robot, though.)

A brief word about the theater I saw it in: I had never been to the Main Street before, even though I had passed it lots of times. It's a small neighborhood theater, the neighborhood in this case being a predominantly Jewish one, with lots of kosher markets and restaurants. The Main Street is a sister of the Sunnyside theater, and the layout is similar. There was one guy working both concessions and tickets, and by the time he let us into the auditorium, most of the previews had already played, so we had to quickly find seats in the dark. There were a bunch of kids in the audience, naturally, and they chattered about as much as you'd expect them to during the film. I just tuned them out. At least none of them sat directly behind me and kicked my chair or anything.

Also, there was a Toy Story short before the film. This was the second one Pixar has made, if I'm not mistaken, and it seemed derivative of some of the earlier movies (Buzz separated from the others, a new group of toys with issues). I wasn't that impressed with it.


  1. I'm quite surprised to discover that you had no prior knowledge of Jason Segel. You should at minimum see "I Love You, Man" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"... two very different roles for him and I'm betting different than his Muppets role.

    Barring either of those, go see the first role he really landed... SLC Punk! where he plays Mike, the punk who doesn't dress the part.

    Unless of course ya know, you didn't like him.

  2. I actually did see 'SLC Punk,' when I was still working video retail. And yeah, eventually I did learn what other things Segal has been in. He was okay in 'Muppets,' though it's hard to tell how good an actor he is from something as light as this.


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