During the recent nerve-racking hours following the devastating news that Eddie Murphy would no longer be the host of the next Academy Awards, an Internet-?led movement arose to draft Kermit the Frog and friends for the job. Alas, the banjo-playing personality with the perpetually youthful green complexion lost out to Billy Crystal. But the fan interest is proof of the durable popularity of the felt frog, now starring in The Muppets, the first big-screen reunion of the international-superstar puppet characters since their underwhelming 1999 outing, Muppets in Space.
As a theatrical troupe, the Muppets haven’t exactly been AWOL these past dozen years; the gang rocked YouTube in 2009 with their kick-ass rendition of Queen’s ”Bohemian Rhapsody.” But they’ve certainly been lying low while our twitchy, tweet-y times have favored snarkier, more air-quote-driven entertainment, even from puppets. And in a way, that showbiz hiatus has worked in favor of The Muppets. For adults, the movie’s gentle, clever, unironic humor feels freshly, trendily retro now, enhanced by laughs provided in cameos from a very up-to-date roster of stars, including Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris, Selena Gomez, and Emily Blunt. And for kids, blessedly unironic by nature until wised up by nurture, the movie is just shiny, funny, and filled with songs, including a curse-free chicken rendition of Cee-Lo’s ”F-?-?- You.”
Big, goofily sincere Muppet fan Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), who co-wrote the script directed by Da Ali G Show’s James Bobin, stars as a nice guy named Gary, whose happy life in Smalltown, USA, revolves around his longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams in her professionally adorable Enchanted comedian-sweetheart mode), and Gary’s pint-size brother, Walter. Walter’s obsession with all things Muppet — no surprise to everyone who looks at the felty guy and recognizes him as One of Them — brings the trio to Los Angeles, where they become involved in a desperate fund-raising plan to save the decrepit old Muppet Theater from the dastardly tear-down plans of an evil oilman (Chris Cooper, a great meanie). In fact, the story, with its ”Let’s put on a show!” vibe, is a little wispy. (That’s the climax, folks: The Muppets resurrect The Muppet Show as a one-night telethon.) But the stuff surrounding the story is its own diversion. I like the look of the outdated, run-down Muppet Studios when Walter takes a tour and, indeed, the run-down state of the Muppets themselves as Kermit begins pulling them out of retirement for an onstage reunion. I love the bits with a hint of Pee-wee Herman to them, such as when Gary, Mary, and Walter travel in their car to France ”by map”: We watch a line arc across an atlas, and the vehicle rises out of the water in Cannes. And I’m delighted that The Devil Wears Prada’s Emily Blunt shows up as a haughty British Vogue staffer attending to the whims of a very demanding editor: Miss Piggy. That’s testament not to the power of Vogue — but to the power of Muppets. B+