Oh those were simpler days weren’t they, those days when The Muppets bestrode prime time television and the hearts of children. There were only the slight distractions of Thatcher, the Cold War, famine in Africa and the Hand of God and a few other minor blemishes on the clear blue sky of tranquility. But the reasons The Muppets worked then, and why ultimately this film works now, is that whilst it is fundamentally a no-holds-barred feelgood heartwarmer without a bad word to say about anybody but themselves it is also perfectly knowing although never cynical and ultimately wins you over by sheer power of warm hearted determination. I haven’t smiled so much in the cinema for a long time.
It’s not all perfect. To get the key gripe out of the way: my kids struggled. They may be slightly too young but when one is asleep and the other more interested in the eyes on his animal-faced wellies you know that maybe some of the slower bits feel like an eternity to the youngest minds and maybe they should have cut a bit more quickly from the sadder stuff to the bounciest. They were dancing along at the end though which is just as well as otherwise I might have had to drop them off at a Dickensian orphanage on the way home.
But the good stuff is good, and there is lots of good stuff. Let’s start with Amy Adams because no other review seems to have bothered. Playing a sex-driveless long-suffering girlfriend of ten years who must make way for her guy to help his brother save the muppets, I’m not sure that’s actually a particularly easy role to take on and make it funny. There’s a point where endearing and interesting moves into throwing things at the screen and Adams somehow goes nowhere near it. Film co-writer Jason Segel plays her boyfriend Gary (he wears jimjams and sleeps in the same kidalike bedroom as his puppet brother Walter) and he too manages the same trick – but given that he got to write the lines I’m going to be less impressed. Although his writing is damn fine and there are plenty of good gags, and plenty of awful ones for Fozzie too.
The plot such as it is is that a bad guy called Tex Richman wants to shut the Muppets studio down, the context is that no one would notice as the world has moved on. So Kermit, inspired by Walter, gets the band back together for a telethon fundraiser to save the day. Along the way there are some hummable songs, some jolly and amusing set pieces and the best use of We Built This City that Starship could ever have hoped for. There are also numerous cameos of both muppet and celebrity nature. There are no singing cauliflowers but a puppet-based chocolate cake lets rip. And the muppets are still a felt, puppet based lifeform – there is no grotesquely obvious CGI rebooting going on here.
Whilst we’re not talking about the same classic status that is rightly held by the Muppets’ Christmas Carol and Treasure Island films (no one here plays it quite straight enough for that) this is still a very enjoyable hundred minutes. My kids however, preferred, the trailers on youtube.
They will learn.