Well, this was certainly a surprise! Its been about twelve years since the last Muppet movie, Muppets from Space, and it looked after that like The Muppets were indeed totally forgotten about. But the 2011 Muppets movie proved that no one forgot about The Muppets, and that the likes of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, Fozzie Bear, and all the others have never been forgotten. In fact, it seemed people wanted them back more than ever, because The Muppets was a smash hit - it made $158 million from a budget of $45 million - and it was also the best-reviewed movie in the entire Muppet canon.
Among the millions of Muppet fans was a young Jason Segel, an actor and screenwriter who is currently known for his role as Marshall on How I Met Your Mother. Segel - who, notably, was born in 1980, after The Muppet Show had been on for four years and just a year before it was cancelled - said in an interview that he had always been a big Muppets fan and always dreamed of having one of the movies' or show's big celebrity cameos. Unfortunately for him, by the time he had become famous, The Muppets had run their course, and Segel was disappointed that no one ever approached him with the opportunity to appear in a small role in a Muppet movie. So instead of just sitting and dreaming about it and wondering, Segel took action. He got together with his buddy Nicholas Stoller and wrote a Muppet movie with him, and wrote himself in as the star of it!
The Muppets pokes a lot of fun with the fact that our favorite Muppet characters haven't shown up in any original material in over a decade. Segel writes in a lot of meta and retcon references about the current state of the Muppets popularity in the bigger entertainment world. In fact, the meta and retcon are the basis for some of the funniest material in the movie. At one point, a TV executive named Veronica whom the Muppets are pitching to is as blunt as possible about their lack of popularity: She pulls out a chart which shows how popular certain forms of entertainment are. The popular people are shown as a cluster around some point of ultimate popularity, and to get to the Muppets' location on the chart, she has to unroll an extra bit which expands it to twice its original length! At another point, during the Telethon finale, Whoopie Goldberg and Selena Gomez and a young kid show up at the theater to help on the phones. Goldberg doesn't indicate she knows about the Muppets, but is there because she heard about a career opportunity; Gomez flatly tells Kermit the Frog that she has no idea who they are, and that her agent just told her to show up there; and the other kid asks Kermit if he's one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! (To which Kermit briefly pauses before replying, "Yes! Yes I am!")
Hell, the whole plot of the movie revolves around The Muppets and how the rest of the world forgot about them. Well, the rest of the world that isn't a new Muppet from Smalltown, USA (and I mean that; that's the name of the 101-person-populated town the main characters are from) named Walter, the only Muppet in that place, and one who was inspired by The Muppet Show. His human brother Gary is taking his girlfriend, Mary, to Los Angeles for their anniversary and bringing Walter along for the ride, and they're going to visit Muppet Studios. Walter optimistically hopes to run into one of his heroes, but Gary is more realistic, pointing out that The Muppets haven't created any new material in years. Mary, who just wants to celebrate her anniversary with Gary alone, agrees to have Walter along in order to appease Gary, who might as well be tethered to Walter. But that's a side plot which has no consequence on the main plot whatsoever, so I won't dwell on it. But while at the very small tour of a very run-down Muppet Studios, Walter is hanging out in Kermit's office when he hears oil tycoon Tex Richman (don't you love it when you can tell who the bad guy is just from their name?) go over his nefarious plan to demolish the studio in favor of another oil drill. But since this is a standard bad guy contract, there is one out - if the Muppets are able to raise $10 million before the date on the contract they sold the studio to Tex for, they get to retain the studio. After running screaming from the studio after overhearing that, Walter decides to turn to Kermit.
Gary, Mary, and Walter find Kermit's mansion, and the Green One is very receptive and welcoming to them. After mulling it over due to his not actually seeing any of the old gang in years, he decides to get everyone together. With the help of Gary, Mary, Walter, and 80's Robot, Kermit does what he did in the first Muppets movie to collect everyone: He drives! Fozzie now has a nightclub act in Reno playing with The Moopets (Miss Poogy, Animool, and others); Gonzo has become the richest plumbing magnate on the Rust Belt (it just occurred to me: If he was so rich, why couldn't he have bought the studio himself? Well, it would have been a much shorter movie otherwise...); and Miss Piggy is a magazine publisher in France. Others are collected through use of that other great 80's method: The Montage! They have two weeks to get everyone together, get everyone rehearsed, and put their telethon on TV!
The Muppets is, more than anything, a loving allusion from a fan to the old Muppet Show. The even bring out some of the old sets from The Muppet Show, even re-creating the theme song, complete with Gonzo blowing on his trumpet at the end. (It emits a Tarzan yell.) And really, that's the entire point of The Muppets. Segel and Stoller seem to have meant this movie to introduce a whole new generation to The Muppets and introduce them to classic children's programming.
Yes, there are plenty of celebrity cameos. Jack Black - whom the Muppets freaking kidnap in order to get him to host the telethon - is probably the biggest celebrity name in this bunch. Dave Grohl plays Animool, drummer for The Moopets, which makes sense because Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana. Judd Hirsch, Jim Parsons, Alan Arkin, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris, and Mickey Rooney are among the others who appear. The rumor for the original script featured a more impressive list which would also have included George Clooney, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, and Mel Brooks. Those are just a few from a list that makes dreamers of movie fans. If only. A cameo was apparently written for Elmo, but that was thankfully dropped. There's already a rumor of a sequel in the works, and that might create a problem with Walter. Walter is included in the Muppet cast at the end of the movie, just like he always dreamed, but if he's included in new Muppet media, he's going to end up being Elmo: A cute, harmless blank page who lacks the edge of the other cast members.
Now that we know what Gonzo is now, a notable script omission is that Segel and Stoller don't include any jokes about anyone trying to figure out just what Gonzo is. It's certainly in line with the series canon, but I'm going to miss those days, because the subtle little jokes that came at Gonzo's lack of species identification were frequently brilliant.
All in all, this is a very strong movie from a Muppets fan. Give it to Segel for wanting his cameo bad enough to write the whole damn movie himself, and give him credit for bringing back the magic and fantastic self-awareness which made The Muppets stand out.
THE MUPPETS Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller Directed by James Bobin Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Kermit the Frog The first Muppet movie in over 10 years, simply called THE MUPPETS, was tailor made for people just like me – fans of the show that long for simpler times, when frogs both ran theatres and away from pigs. With the threat of losing their long abandoned … more
As a child, I have fond memories of watching The Muppet Show and enjoying the mix of comedy, music, and dance with my family and recapping the show with my friends the following day. Kermit, Ms. Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, and the whole gang were my childhood icons and provided countless hours of entertainment with their brilliant and inspired variety show as well as the three movies that followed. It is hard to believe that 1989 was the last time the gang graced the big screen with “The Muppets … more
Star Rating: The Muppets plays the music and lights the lights, but it’s not sensational, inspirational, celebrational, or even muppetational, and that’s the most disappointing thing of all. What we have are two movies vying for the same space, neither emerging victorious because they’re not handled particularly well. On the one hand, we have a soppy, innocuous love story between Jason Segel and Amy Adams, which is occasionally interrupted … more