The second coming of ‘The Muppets’

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

Everyone loves the Muppets. Period.
Sadly, it’s been a long time since Jim Henson’s colorful cut-ups have had a vehicle befitting their potential. Indeed, it’s been so long since Kermit & Co. have held any pertinent position in pop culture, outside of being members of the proverbial “old guard,” that many people have sadly forgotten just how much pure joy these furballs can instill in one’s heart.
Kudos to 2011’s “The Muppets,” then, for reminding us.
This new film picks up several years after the title characters have called it quits, and time in their world has been about as kind to them as it has in ours. Simply put, they’ve faded into obscurity. Fozzy’s stuck in a sleazy casino with a crappy Muppets tribute act. Animal’s given up drumming. Gonzo’s selling toilets. Most shockingly of all, Kermit and Miss Piggy have broken up!
All this is quite distressing for Walter, himself a Muppet and the old gang’s biggest fan. When he discovers that nefarious oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is planning to demolish the neglected Muppets Studios in search of black gold, Walter, his brother Gary (Brian Segel, pulling double duty as the screenwriter) and Gary’s fiancée Mary (Amy Adams) set out on a cross-country road trip to reunite the Muppets, hoping they can put on one last show and maybe raise enough money to buy back their old homestead.
Watching the Muppets overcome their own encroaching obsolescence is a genuinely uplifting experience. Some fourth wall line-blurring makes our protagonists’ plight particularly poignant. The story will likely tug at the heartstrings of anyone who grew up with The Muppets in any capacity whatsoever, whether it be through original airings or even reruns of “The Muppet Show,” “Muppet Babies” or perhaps a screening of “Muppet Treasure Island” on VHS.
Today’s kids may be less affected, but the plot and characters are still engrossing and the humor remains hilarious. I’m happy to report that there aren’t any pitiful attempts to modernize the comedy in order to stay “hip” or “edgy.” The jokes here are culled from the same witty-but-dorky vaudevillian potpourri of inoffensive slapstick, puns, absurdities, songs and sight gags the Muppets built their legend on.
The cultural landscape has changed dramatically since the Muppets’ heyday, becoming simultaneously more sophisticated and more crass, and undeniably more cynical. It’s a testament to the timelessness of Henson’s creations that their wholesome mirth doesn’t feel stale, nor does their sentimentality feel hokey or naive. Actually, this kind of endearing innocence is so old it may be new again.
This is probably the best motion picture to come out of the franchise since 1979’s “The Muppets Movie.” Even Statler and Waldorf would be hard-pressed to find much to complain about here. What “The Muppets” offers is a refreshing shot of optimistic silliness sure to put a smile on anyone’s face, young or old. Ultimately, though, this is less a children’s movie for your children, and more a children’s movie for your own inner child.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5