The Muppets Review
Amidst this miserable summer, some bright and chirpy entertainment never goes amiss. The Muppets have always been a children’s favourite but with the first generation of viewers now a little grey around the temples and with kids and possibly even grandchildren, the films have a much wider audience range to appeal to. I am sure that the studio must rub their hands with glee when the time rolls around for another outing of the furry friends. Kermit’s wage demands have never been that astronomical and even flying Miss Piggy in from Paris probably costs less than Kristen Stewart’s weekly flower bill. Of course a few non-Muppet characters are required as well as the obligatory cameos. The main things a Muppet movie needs are a feel good story, an excuse for lots of song and dance numbers and plenty of belly laughs. The good news is this movie does not disappoint at any level.
There are various SKUs available for this product, including a 3 disc pack with Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy. This review is based upon the single disc unit, but it is understood that extras and content are unchanged. The disc is encoded regions A,B & C and as a 24fps 1080p transfer is truly multi-region.
The basic plot of the film revolves around Walter who travels from Small Town, America to Los Angeles accompanied by his all human brother Gary (Jason Segel) and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to visit the Muppet’s Studio Tour and Theatre. His dreams are shattered by what he finds there, a crumbling tourist attraction and derelict theatre. The parallels to the popularity of the Muppets are of course drawn, huge in the 70s and 80s, but now waning. Walter also discovers a plot by Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to tear down the whole studio lot and decides to find Kermit to plan what can be done to save the day. This opening part of the film features a mainly human cast and has all the cheesy comedy plus a few gags for the grown-ups - “Did you have that dream again” (Walter briefly checks his pyjamas under the duvet) that one could hope for. Elementary school teacher Mary showing her 6 year olds how to repair a Morris Minor is just so unexpected and no less funny for it. The transition from big dance number in the characters head to “reality” is extremely funny, as are a number of the set pieces. Think “Naked Gun” for some of the visual gags and Mel Brooks for the song and dance numbers.
As Kermit starts to gather the crew together, the humour carries on apace, with more visual gags, an explosion “Wow, I didn’t know we had the budget for THAT” and of course more song and dance numbers. The 80’s robot is a very clever invention and none of the dry wit that adults glean while the kids laugh at the slap stick is missing. There is more than a nod to the Blues Brothers with the other Muppets languishing in unfulfilling careers. Only Miss Piggy seems to have landed truly on her trotters, as the outsize editor of a top fashion magazine and even she has repressed feelings to contend with. We may never know why she and Kermit have drifted apart, but it is a flame that has merely dimmed, not extinguished. Jason Segel produced, co- wrote and stars in the film but does not keep all the best lines for himself, sharing the laughs around quite democratically. OK, so some of the humour is a bit lazy, but the film still rips along at a fair pace. We are of course missing the vocal talents of the late Jim Henson and also Frank Oz, who handed over the reins of Miss Piggy to Eric Jacobson quite a few years ago, while Steve Whitmire replaced Henson after his untimely death in 1990. The good news is that many of the vocal performers have been part of the Muppets’ support team for many years and the uninitiated would not know the difference. There was always the fear that as more of the original team departed, the quality of the production would diminish. Some of the more recent films have not been successes, but this outing returns to excellence. A smattering of Brits amongst the production team including director James Bobin as well as Emily Blunt as Mademoiselle Piggy’s assistant contributes a certain Anglicism to some of the humour.
The picture quality is of course absolutely first class. Shot digitally and with great care, it’s a good smiley face film, so it won’t challenge even a badly set up TV. The surround sound mix however really works all speakers very hard. Any lack of balance or bandwidth on any channel, including the LFE will be immediately obvious. That being said, the end result on a good system is excellent, with dialogue and music emanating from all parts of the sound field. The big explosion will have you running for cover, or in my case having to catch the bowl of nachos dislodged by the bass shakers located under the sofa, a feat only so far achieved by Tron Legacy!
As with previous Muppets outings the characters reference the fact that they are making a movie as well as using dramatic mechanisms including travelling long distances by “Going by map” and a Montage scene to collect the lesser Muppets in a few short minutes. Great fun and well integrated. The encounter with Animal at the anger management clinic cleverly ties Jack Black into the later story. We also learn a little more about evil oil magnate Tex Richman, his henchmen and the alternative “Moopet” Reno lounge bar show.
Having decided the only way to raise the $10Million is to hold a telethon the gang set about finding a network prepared to air the show, repair the theatre and find a celebrity host. Cue yet more songs and multi-layered gags including Jack Black being floored by Ninja Miss Piggy, her thighs wrapped around his err… face… The key song – Am I a man or a Muppet was used as part of the theatrical release publicity, gaining its own single and music video release. It certainly works better in the film than on the radio and is true 80’s MTV in terms of look and feel. Cue walking through darkened streets, catching glances in mirrors and windows, that sort of thing.
It’s normally about now in a film that my notoriously short attention span coupled with a lack of fresh gags allows my mind to wander. However, this movie simply changes gear becomes more akin to one of the 70s TV shows. The camerawork becomes much less expansive and more TV like, as does the lighting and colour balance. It got to a point that I was looking for the camera tube vapour trails that so defined early colour TV. The use of plain black backgrounds behind some shots along with in-shot lighting and a degree of over saturation all lead to the television feel. There have obviously been a few edits and cuts here and there, as bits of the story are a little disjointed, but not to the extent that it spoils the viewing experience. The Muppet Theatre evokes memories of the TV show even further. The famous arches from the opening sequence are there in all their glory, along with the stage manager’s desk, Animal’s drum riser etc. We also see a number of cameos at this point, cleverly managed to capture the interest and provoke a response across the age spectrum.
As we rattle towards the finale, the tension builds. Will they reach their target? Will Walter overcome his stage fright? Will Jack Black escape his bonds? Of course we know that this is a feel good movie and the outcome is assured albeit with a slight twist. Tex Richman continues his dastardly plan to scupper the telethon, only to be thwarted by the ever resourceful Mary. We end with the Muppets walking out of the theatre to greet their adoring fans. Just make sure you don’t switch off quite yet as you will miss out on a great little extra!
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