Unashamedly silly, joyous and optimistic, on first watch `The Muppets' seems to be mostly aimed not at children, but at the adults who grew up watching Jim Henson's characters from the much loved Muppet Show' series during the 70s and 80s. There have been a number of Muppets movies since `The Muppet Show' long since went off air, the best of which are `The Muppets Take Manhattan' and `The Muppet Christmas carol'. I am happy to say that this new film is wittier and more enjoyable than any of them. Hopefully this excellent and insanely cheery piece of family entertainment will succeed in introducing Jim Henson's creation to a new generation of admirers.
The Muppets is based on the clever (and somewhat correct) premise that the once popular Muppets are now a group of washed up has-beens, long since pushed out of the limelight by awful shows like `Punch Teacher'. Sweetly cheerful couple Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) take Gary's brother (and Muppet) Walter on a trip to Hollywood. As long-time Muppet fanatics, they pay a visit to their heroes' famous studio in L.A (actually The Muppets was filmed at Borehamwood Studios in Hertfordshire), only to be horrified that the theatre has fallen into neglect and disrepair and about to be demolished for profit by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Intent on raising the money to buy the theatre back, Walter and Gary seek out Kermit, now dejected and living alone and in the past, in a bid to get the gang back together for one more show. The group have had mixed fortunes since they went their separate ways. Fozzie is singing in a sleazy bar with Muppets tribute act `The Moopets'; Gonzo has become a millionaire in the plumbing business; Animal is attending anger management therapy and Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor in Paris with, yes, a snotty secretary played by Emily Blunt.
The storyline will likely not win any prizes for originality and not every gag hits the mark, but the whole thing is carried out with such an infectious, anarchic energy that you won't care. In any case it is really just an excuse to pepper the film with song and dance numbers which are mostly excellent, particularly the very clever `Man or Muppet'. As in Muppet tradition, there are plenty of celebrity cameos: Jack Black, Dave Grohl, Whoopi Goldberg and Alan Arkin to name a few, but the irony is that in their heyday the Muppets would perhaps have attracted even bigger names (remember Elton John, Peter Sellers, Julie Andrews, Bob Hope?)
The Muppets is a terrific family film that works on a number of levels and will be enjoyed equally by adults and children alike. But for many it will also be a piece of nostalgia, unapologetically extolling the virtues of friendship, innocence and good old-fashioned charm without sentimentality and maintaining its giddy, chaotic appeal throughout.
It's time to play the music; it's time to light the lights; it's time to meet the Muppets.....