The Muppets proves that Jim Henson’s zany bunch of felt-skinned characters will indeed live on. With “The Muppet Show”, Henson brought a welcome off-kilter perspective to humor complete with star hosts. With The Muppet Movie and future films, Henson used that humor as a gateway to showcase tangible heart with its potent messages of friendship, camaraderie and the ability to achieve one’s dreams. Led by actor/writer Jason Segel, this revival reminds us why we love the Muppets so much in a story laced with regretful longing and time past. Its more serious themes follow through on the conviction that these characters mean something to people. Jason Segel’s assemblage is from start to finish a tangible labor of love that the audience can immediately feel and relate to. The highlights come from the songs by music supervisor Bret McKenzie, which contains no throwaways, and infectiously lingers with you for days after. “Man or Muppet” in particular is superb.
Admittedly, there is a struggle to maintain a balance between the wackiness and poignancy. Some of the jokes work splendidly, but a sizable chunk of them either don’t or fall somewhat short, throwing the axis of tone in favor of sentiment which threatens to take over the picture. Overall, it is steeped in Muppet tradition, and thus the film scores more hits than misses. Its heart is in the right place and that makes up for it not being quite the consistent work it could have been. Between the love and care radiating off of Segel, the music, and the invaluable presence of the Muppets themselves, who remain irreplaceably special creations, The Muppets serves as a much needed reminder of the world Jim Henson built.
Afterthought: There is a film in the Muppet franchise that I consider one of my ten favorite films. It is not the one you think. It’s a work I would defend to the death. Like so many, The Muppets mean quite a lot to me; four of the films I have seen countless times (we’re talking numbers in the hundreds) and the show remains a favorite. I am one of those saps that will, without fail, be brought to tears the second Kermit starts to sing. Something that felt really gratifying leading up to this film’s release was the excitement coming from the blogosphere. Granted, the film’s relentless and wildly achieved marketing helped with this, but a communal sense of appreciation for Henson’s work was felt across the board from everyone involved in making the film to the people anticipating it. And that aspect of it was just as wonderful to see as the finished product.