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The Muppets

Just darn fine family entertainment

By Clint Morris

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is sitting at the kitchen table waiting for my ‘shrinkie’ (google it kids) to melt, crumble and form in the oven while my grandmother cooked whatever animal had foolishly decided to play car tag on Anderson street that day.

As my mother drew on her pencil freckles for a highschool reunion – 5 years since she threw her hat in the air, I believe – I’d retire to the carpet with my newly-cooked TWA (it was an airline, kids; my mother was a travel-agent at the time so most of my ‘toys’ had a TWA or Ansett embossed on them) shrinkie ready to watch one of the main constituents of my telly diet – ”The Flying Nun”. But also ”The Muppet Show” played afterwards. And since Sally Field as a flying penguin doesn’t exact make for hip reviewing, let’s pretend I was solely there in front of the box to see Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Rowlf and.. whatever wrinkly guest star was hosting the show that week.

As Gonzo’s warped trumpet blows, the house goes silent. Mum, still attempting to shave five years off her face with a HB, and Nana, scraping the grime off a saucepan, even hover around the box to see what Jim Henson’s crazy felt ensemble do this week.

I probably sat through every episode of ”The Muppet Show” on its initial run. And it was never a chore or bore. Even if that weeks ”Wonderful World of Disney” episode had been weak (only so many times one can be impressed by an amphibious VW bug), you could count on the Muppets to make up for it.

Sweet, funny, lyrical and very entertaining, Henson’s ‘Sesame Street for Adults’ (some may even look it as a spin-off from kiddie series “Sesame Street” since Kermit appears on both shows) was 60 minutes of perfect family entertainment. In an era when Solo Men, Moon Shadows and Buck Rogers reigned supreme, The Muppets stood out as one of the few small screen efforts that not only appealed to all ages but united families.

And though The Muppets continued their position as surrogate family Councillor and Alco-pop in-one throughout most of the ’80s – with the series but also the great Muppet movies – the 90s, for some ridiculous reason, didn’t consider them fit. Pretty soon the frog, the bear and the pig were demoted; feature films featuring the characters became weak and cheap telemovies (‘look! it’s the cast of Scrubs! and… is that a boom in the shot!?), Kermit spent more time on T Shirts than on screen, and the youngsters moved onto “cooler” things like ”Ninja Turtles” and ”90210”. Or in my case, wine casks.

Actor Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”), seemingly noticing the rash retirement forced onto The Muppets back in 1999 (when their last feature film, the slipshod “Muppets from Space”, was released) and the lack of good old family humour and fozzie fuzzy, pitched a relaunch of the film franchise to Disney (who now have the rights to the characters).

Okay, so I imagine Disney were much more interested in being in bed with the popular film and TV actor than doing a big budget Muppets movie, but either way, they went for it. Pepe the Prawn and all.

An adoring email to that original weekly TV series, but also the first and best Muppet movie (1979’s “The Muppet Movie”), The Muppets perfectly captures what worked for the hand-gang way back when – lovable characters, sweet and funny songs, witty jokes, and welcome family and friend messages. It skips over the crappy telemovie years of the Muppets and instead boomerangs back to the original, serving as almost a direct sequel to that very last episode of ”The Muppet Show”.

Structured much like that first film, in that it’s simply about getting the troupe together and putting on a show (as opposed to doing a theme movie – a’la “Muppet Treasure Island” or “The Muppet’s Wizard of Oz”), with a cutesy, infectious song every few minutes, a horde of cameos (Mickey Rooney’s still alive!?) and a heart-warming plot that drives the film along feverishly and fast, Segel and co-writer Nick Stoller’s film is a film that almost seems out of place in this drama-heavy technology-driven smart-arse era. And good. Cos we need a shake-up.

The plot is simple. Smalltown residents Gary (Segel), his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and his puppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), are headed to Hollywood. The human duo are there to celebrate their tenth-anniversary, Walter’s there to track down the stars from his favourite TV show, ”The Muppet Show”.

The Muppets, the trio discover, aren’t a family anymore though; in fact, the Muppet studios is a cobweb factory and the theatre isn’t much prettier. It’s over.

Walter, having snuck into Kermit’s abandoned office for a looksee, overhears a conversation between an evil oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) and his cronies (Muppets, of course) regarding the abolishment of the studios. Seems there’s oil underneath the studios. That’s more important than nostalgia.

While Mary deals with her disappointment of having Walter’s Muppet-searching plans come a distant second to her own, Gary and his felt brother are on a frantic mission to reunite the Muppets – Kermit’s a recluse in a mansion; Piggy is running Vogue in Paris, Fozzie is appearing in a cover band called The ‘Moopets’ in Vegas – in the hope that they can hatch a plan to save their former home, but also, learn to be a family again. All that sweet stuff.

Great songs (even ‘Rainbow Connection’ gets another run), Great cameos (Jack Black gagged and tied to a chair? Best use of Jack Black ever!), Great puppetry (well, duh!) and a really sweet script, “The Muppets” is enough to make you go Manha-Manha!

Director James Bobin’s film is something you want your kids to see; it’s something that’s not all about happy meals (though don’t be surprised if the kids do find a ‘Kermit’ in their squished-up cheeseburger over Christmas), and mostly, it’s just darn fine family entertainment.

Thirty-something’s, remember that feeling you got in the cinema watching ”The Muppet Movie” as a tyke? Especially when Kermit started singing his hearty ‘Rainbow Connection’ tune? Remember the smile you raised? The Goosebumps that spiked up? The giggles you had when Gonzo flew off with the balloons?

The water that started to drown the eyes? The love you felt immediately for that little green guy? You’ll feel it all again.

You may even find yourself writing Charles Durning a second, though tardy, nasty letter.

Blu-ray details and extras :

The Blu-ray (there’s also a DVD and digital copy included) looks and sounds perfect! Such a blissfully colourful treat!

Extras wise, there’s a fun but not overly insightful audio commentary with writer/executive producer/star Jason Segel, writer/executive producer and Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin; a featurette on the Muppets phenomenon; eight deleted scenes; a blooper reel (which is quite lengthy!); those “Muppets” spoof trailers; and the full ‘Tex Richman’ rap song. Lots of good stuff on here!

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