Apr 9, 2012

[Movies] The Muppets (2011)

One of the bigger challenges of living in the Philippines is how our local movie distributors make decisions based on their perception of what the average Filipino movie-goer is willing to go out of his way to watch at the theater. Then you add in how the US studios also make certain decisions when it comes to international markets and thus even places like the UK can get totally shafted by a delayed release of a popular US movie.

I especially felt my frustration with this fact when the news about this movie came around. In the US the movie debuted during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. However for us in the Philippines, we only got to catch this movie in theaters this March. In other words, the movie was finally released just as the DVDs where being released back in the US.  Frustrating!

And I really, really enjoy the Muppets. I've been a fan most of my life ranging from their appearances on Sesame Street to their television variety shows to their various movies. And to finally have them return to the bring screen, well, it was certainly an event that I didn't want to miss, but had no choice given the delays in its local release.

The Muppets is a 2011 comedy movie and marks the first new Muppet movie in over 12 years.The movie was directed by James Bobin with a screenplay by star Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.

The movie focuses on the odd pair of brothers of Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (Peter Linz). The quirky thing though is that Walter was born a Muppet, and thus tries to get through life coming to terms with how he is different from the rest of the human world that he's somehow a part of. And thus he becomes a big fan of The Muppet Show and the zany antics of those colorful characters.

The Muppets
Cover of The Muppets
Fast forward to the present and we have Gary planning a trip to Los Angeles to celebrate his tenth anniversary with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). But part of the travel plans is to visit the original Muppet Studios, and thus he automatically invites Walter along. Once there, they discover that studios are in a state of disrepair and are about to be sold off entirely. A Texas oil magnate by the name of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) has plans of buying the studios, but for rather nefarious reasons. Thus Gary, Walter and Mary take it upon themselves to try and find Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) and figure out a way to raise the $10 million needed to buy the studios back.

Like any other Muppet movie, you can expect a certain number of tropes associated with the franchise itself. Thus we get musical numbers, a lot of celebrity cameos and of course the overall status quo that is the Muppets are as real as you and me and are not actually puppets being manipulated by off-screen puppeteers. And so everyone in the movie interacts with them in that manner - something that is carried over to their live television appearances at awards shows and the like.

The songs were cute, but nothing overly inspiring or overwhelming, I'll admit. But then I don't typically expect that sort of thing from Muppet movies. They music will just be thematically appropriate to that section of the story (whether original or not) and don't necessarily have legs beyond that. And maybe I'm just being biased, but I do wish that Amy Adams had more musical numbers. Can you blame me for having enjoyed Enchanted so much?

The overall story wasn't actually that bad, but not all that amazing either. I mean seriously, the prior Muppet movies all had quirky stories that had a larger tendency to just go in so many different directions before the big closing number. This one did have more of a coherent flow, but at times it just didn't seem like a particular great story. And considering this was presented as the big return to the big screen for The Muppets, I guess I was expecting a bit more than what we got.

They also made sure to pile in a heck of a lot of different Muppets while also including new ones on the side. At first '80's Robot (Matt Vogel), but then in the long run his appeal grew on me. Sure, he was meant as a nod to the fact that most of the people who remember seeing the Muppets on TV and in movies include the children of the 1980's, but I can also understand how a lot of folks probably couldn't relate to the jokes he had to contribute to things. I mean seriously, the younger generation of today (and it kills me to refer to them as a younger generation) have no idea what New Coke was or what a dial-up modem used to sound like. Funny times.

On the whole though, it was a bit tricky to appreciate how all the Muppets were in the movie given how small a role each one represented. This has been a recurring problem in past Muppet movies, but this time around I felt we spent way too much time with the likes of Walter and not enough time with the Gonzo types of the world. They're still important characters and they're not exactly second-stringers, but for the most part we just saw them running, dancing and singing in the background. Perhaps the movie just suffered from way too many Muppets and not enough time.

So did this movie potentially re-launch their "careers" and herald the return of the Muppets to prime time? I don't necessarily think so - we live in rather jaded times where people have very different tastes. But at the same time, it did help build awareness and I think that this will support their continued efforts on social media to keep the Muppets brand alive and slowly introduce younger generations to their unique comedic and musical style.

The Muppets is still a fun movie but not quite as fun as I had hoped. Maybe my expectations were just a bit higher than they should have been and thus I set myself up for disappointment or something. On the whole, they movie still rates 3.5 fun celebrity cameos including Jim Parsons out of a possible 5.

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