Sunday, 4 March 2012
Movie #21 The Muppets
Prejudices declared - I was a muppet fan as a kid and remain so as an adult. I'd been waiting for this for some time, ever since I first got wind of it back in 2010 (and there's been an insanely long delay between US and UK release dates). In fact, strike 'waiting' and replace with 'eagerly anticipating'. So imagine my delight on takign my seat in the the theatre... First, we're treated to a lovely Toy Story short - talk about "you had me at hello" - before kicking off the title sequence with Paul Simon's 'Me and Julio Down in the Schoolyard'. Mix that in with a later nod to The Economist and you're already approaching a perfect Multiplex Slut storm of references.
OK, so I'm getting ahead of myself . Essentially a 'getting the band back together' movie, the muppets have been scattered to the four winds following their steady decline in fame. Some are succesful - Gonzo is a plumbing magnate - others less so, but all having left The Muppet Show far behind. Things get kickstarted when muppet-mad brothers Gary (Jason Segal) and Walter (actually a muppet - a bizarre idea that works because the film tacitly acknowledges its absurdity) take a trip, along with Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to LA to visit The Muppet Show studio. On discovering the studio practically abandoned, Walter accidently overhears bad-guy oil baron Tex Richman's (Chris Cooper) plan to destroy the studio and exploit the hydrocarbon wealth beneath it. On sharing this discovery, the intrepid trio track down Kermit and persuade him to get the old gang back together and raise enough money to save the building.
So I'll cut to the chase - I loved it. I don't want to spoil any of the gags (so I won't), but suffice to say I was either grinning or outright laughing throughout. Director James Bobin has got the tone pitch-perfect: it's anarchic, but never threatening; knowing and self-reflexive without mean-spiritedness; and hilarious without being crude.
And while the muppets are naturally ace, the human perfomers are great too. Segal (who co-wrote) and Adams are naively spot-on as our proxies into the muppet world, and the numerous cameos are fun to spot. Chris Cooper is a fine villain, too - some great touches, such as his inability to laugh ("Maniacal laugh! Maniacal laugh!") and shots of him surrounded by crushed cans of Red Bull - not to mention his rap.
Which brings us onto the music, supervised by Flight of the Conchords chappie Bret Mackenzie: it's great, perfectly 'getting' the muppet world, clever, silly and always good-natured. 'Man or Muppet' has since won Mackenzie an Oscar, though I enjoyed opener 'Life's a Happy Song' even more, and then there's a couple of covers in there that cracked me up later on movie.
And bad stuff? Well, if you don't have the kind of emotional response to the film that I did, you could probably go to town on the plotting and (in particular) the rather disjointed character arcs, betraying the sinister hand of 'studio involvement'. I'll let others rip it apart though, I don't have the heart to do it. I enjoyed it too much; in fact it's one of the best times I've had in the cinema for ages and, damn the criticism, it deserves a very decent:
Note: I was very close to giving this a 'nine', but something held me back. It's far from a perfect film, but my emotional response was very strong. In the end, I compared it with another, similarly-pitched, film to which I had a largely comparable response of laughter, nostalgia and joy - Toy Story 3 - and couldn't justify rating The Muppets as highly (TS3 is a bang-on nine-outta-tenner), simply because it lacks the craftsmanship and seems somehow uneven and compromised in comparison. Nontheless, it's a high eight and Kermit & co. can sit on the top of my 2012 leaderboard for the time being.