By Vinnie Abbatecola
“It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights. It’s time to meet the Muppets.” These are the opening lines to the theme song for The Muppet Show, the 1970s television program that first showcased the late Jim Henson’s popular puppet creations.
After a 12-year hiatus from movie theaters, the Muppets make a cordial and musical return to the glorious land that is Hollywood in director James Bobin’s nostalgic comedy, The Muppets.
Gary (Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz, Sesame Street) are brothers and best friends living in Smalltown, USA. During their childhood years, Gary introduces his brother to The Muppet Show, and he instantly becomes its most devoted fan. They are now older, and Gary is in a relationship with his long-time girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams, Catch Me If You Can).
When Gary treats Mary to a trip to the famed Muppet Studios, he decides to bring Walter along, who is elated about the opportunity. But his sense of joy is soon crushed when he overhears that a greedy oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, The Patriot), plans to demolish the dilapidated studio and convert it into a drilling site.
Once Walter reveals this to Gary and Mary, they seek out Kermit, who then recruits them to help him find and reunite the Muppets. They soon devise a plan to host a telethon in the old theater to raise money and help save it from destruction.
After starring in several R-rated comedies and the hit show How I Met Your Mother, Segel didn’t waste any time with this chance to broaden his appeal to include children.
Amy Adams, with her luminous disposition and voice as sweet as gelato, once again confirms that she is one of film’s most endowed starlets. Seeing Segel and Adams work together is reminiscent of a couple you would watch in a romantic movie-musical of the ’50s or ’60s. Being able to act, sing and dance, these lovebirds are triple threats.
There is also a wealth of supporting roles and celebrity cameos. Chris Cooper is just enough of a kooky villain to make his character entertaining. He is a dastardly oil magnate with a penchant for maniacal laughter. Rashida Jones (I Love You, Man) plays the reluctant and daunting network executive who eventually gives the Muppets a chance to air their telethon.
Alan Arkin (Edward Scissorhands) is a bored-out-of-his-mind tour guide for the Muppet Studios. The always-reliably funny Jack Black (The School of Rock) makes an appearance, but his role is a secret. Among the cameos are Sarah Silverman (The School of Rock) as a snide diner host and Mickey Rooney (Night at the Museum) who, as a Smalltown, USA resident, adds a touch of classic Hollywood.
As wonderfully wide-ranging as the human cast is, the Muppets are the real stars of the film. Kermit the Frog, the amphibious leader of the pack, carries us back to our childhoods the moment he appears on the screen. His amorous partner, Miss Piggy, is as assertive as ever and doesn’t let anyone get in the way of what she wants, including the spotlight.
Gonzo makes a fluid comeback with his dangerous circus tricks and loyal chickens. Fozzie Bear is back with his scores of jokes and his characteristic catchphrase, “Wocka Wocka Wocka.” Animal, the feral drummer, returns with all of his anger issues. Statler and Waldorf once again perch on their balcony as the two old men who joyfully criticize whatever they are watching.
The film employs a colorful arrangement of original songs. The opening number, “Life’s a Happy Song,” is an, upbeat musical ray of sunshine. “Pictures In My Head” is Kermit’s sincere song of remembrance for the Muppets’ former stardom. While being ignored by their boyfriends, Amy Adams and Miss Piggy perform “Me Party,” which is a fun song about enjoying the times when you’re flying solo.
The Muppets also bring out some ’80s and ’90s hits. As they are restoring their theater to its previous splendor, they belt out Starship’s “We Built This City.” At one point, the Muppets Barbershop Quartet croons Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
But it’s when you see Kermit on the stage with his banjo and company of friends singing their timeless tune, “Rainbow Connection,” that your nostalgia reaches its zenith. Even if you have never seen The Muppet Show, you have probably heard this endearing showstopper at some point. It will leave you happily teary-eyed and will melt your heart like butter.
For 90 minutes, I took a nostalgic trip back to my childhood. Having not watched this lively cast of characters for some time, I felt as though I was being introduced to them again, and it was an emotional reunion. The Muppets have followed us into our adult years. We haven’t forgotten about them, and it’s clear they haven’t forgotten about us.