Fuzzy memories of crowding around a monstrous 1990’s model rear projection, wood paneled T.V. at some family gathering of my youth is probably the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Muppets. Yeah, it was Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) was set to ‘mindless repeat mode’ on some station that had already had its way with A Christmas Story (1983) and the Grinch(1966), and I’m not talking about the one with Jim Carrey. Growing up and watching any of the disregarded Muppets movies that were on T.V., I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of confusion, not understanding why these funny-looking creatures were reenacting a very mature Charles Dickens’ story, and in hindsight, doing so while subversively poking fun at how ludicrous the entire thing was. Fast forward nearly twenty years later, and it is the exploitation of this underlining, self reflexive humour that makes The Muppets (2011) so funny.
Written by funny buddies Jason Segel and Nick Stoller, The Muppets tells the story of Gary (Jason Segel) and his Muppet born brother Walter (Peter Linz), who grow up idolizing the Muppets. When Walter, Gary, and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) learn of an evil oil Tycoons’ plan to demolish the Muppets’ old studio, they try to rally the help of the now defunct Muppet acting troupe in order to save their old stomping grounds. I won’t lie: I’m a pretty big fan of Jason Segel, and hearing that his name was even attached to this project, I was both excited and frightened. While he has proved himself as, comically at least, consistent, taking on this franchise is indeed a daunting task, especially because the ‘Muppets-must-hustle-to-save-the-day’ story is an old and worn out one. But what took me by surprise was how aware director James Bobin, Segel, and the other contributors to the film were aware of this as well. This Muppets is not trying to take it self seriously, and instead provides a neat meta commentary on the Muppetverse. Walter is a Muppet obsessed with Muppets in a film that is always playfully breaking the fourth wall and includes the audience in a way that doesn’t confuse its sense of humour. This is why seeing characters say straight to the screen that they need to have a montage now to take up time, or watching the troupe decide to ‘travel by map’ (a function in Kermit’s dusty Rolls Royce that allows them to move across continents in mere seconds as a red line on a map) its possible to step back and realize that this film really isn’t taking itself seriously at all, and suddenly The Muppets really are not so strange any more.
Watching The Muppets is like watching a PG rated frat pack comedy, but instead the jokes about booze, weed, and endless references to both male and female genitalia are replaced with witty musical scores and these sassy fury little creatures. The Muppets is well worth seeing if not for its endless line of well timed celebrity cameos, then definitely because it reminds us that in a family entertainment industry ruled by Pixar animated features, these fuzzy little guys still have something new to offer.