By Matt Ern, Columnist
The Muppets were a big part of my childhood. I vividly remember going to see “Muppet’s Treasure Island” and “Muppets from Space” in theaters and watching the Muppet Family Christmas Special is still a holiday tradition of mine.
I’m a big fan of Jason Segel and Bret McKenzie, so the idea of the two of them working on a new Muppet Movie with celebrity cameos from people I actually recognize and care about is theoretically the best thing that could ever happen to me.
I’m not sure if this new movie was legitimately great or if I was just wrapped up in the nostalgia, but I thought it was fantastic. Let’s face it, unless Jason Segel could bring Jim Henson back from the dead, there was no way he could completely recapture the magic of those first three Muppet movies. But he comes pretty close. It’s probably the best of all the post-Henson Muppet movies I’ve seen.
The first half of the movie rehashes the old Muppet standby of a road trip to get the gang back together (it’s sort of a weird mix of “The Muppet Movie” and “Muppets Take Manhattan”). Even so it’s funny and Segel finds new ways to update the formula, like the ability to “travel by map” so they can drive to Paris and a bizarre 80’s Robot that acts as their chauffeur.
The score isn’t as memorable as past Muppet movies but there are definitely a few standouts. The opening number (it’s also reprised for the finale) “Life’s A Happy Song” is really heartwarming Kermit also sings a particularly sad song reminiscing about the old days called “Pictures in My Head”. Kermit wondering whether or not people will still laugh at the Muppets and come out to see them if they do another show parallels the larger question of whether or not Jason Segel could revive the franchise for a new generation.
Plus, Kermit signs “Rainbow Connection” and the cast bursts into “Mahna Mahna” as the credits roll so what more could you really want anyway?
The cameos are all pretty solid, and Jack Black being kidnapped and forced to perform in the Muppet Telethon was surprisingly funny.
The one curve ball thrown into the mix was Walter, a new Muppet who is arguably the main character of the movie, not Kermit. It’s a strange thing to see a Muppet movie without Kermit at the center of things, but Walter’s presence is essential to the revival of the Muppets. He’s a new character but he himself grew up on and loves The Muppet Show. So older fans can relate to him and new fans can still appreciate him.
“The Muppets” definitely succeeds in what it set out to do; it’s as successful a revival of the franchise as anyone could hope for. You can actually see the joy in Jason Segel’s eyes as all these characters surround him from his childhood. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a heartfelt reminder that life’s better when you have someone by your side. Hopefully the Muppets will be sticking by our sides for a while now.