The Muppets review

Banana Rating: 4 out of 5

Has it really been a whole six years since the last Mup­pet movie? Indeed it has, the Mup­pets’ Wiz­ard of Oz was released way back in 2006. For me though, it’s been longer. The last one I saw was Mup­pet Christ­mas Carol from 1992, star­ring Michael Caine. He recently con­fessed that, much to his dis­ap­point­ment, he never got invited to the TV show.

That a star of Caine’s stature could only watch envi­ously from the side­lines as his Hol­ly­wood bud­dies got to star on a show where a pig and a frog are in love with each other, indic­ates just what a delight­fully sur­real phe­nomenon The Mup­pet Show was at the peak of its success.

I say “delight­fully” because I don’t even want to think about the unholy off­spring of Ker­mit and Miss Piggy, and what that must look like. In the film, Miss Piggy skirts around the issue with talk of “rais­ing tad­poles”, like it would be the most nor­mal thing in the world. I'm guessing pig-frog coitus would take place during a portentous thunderstorm. Their hideous offspring would escape to remote villages and run rampant, terrifying the locals.

All that aside (it is a kids movie, I sup­pose), the show’s wait­ing list was prob­ably bul­ging with count­less other stars, des­pond­ent that they may never get a chance to go back­stage with Ker­mit, or be on the receiv­ing end of a kar­ate chop from Miss Piggy.

A back to basics approach

Grow­ing up, Jason Segel must’ve wished he could’ve been on the show too. The Mup­pets, co-wrote by and star­ring Segel, is so clearly a life long dream ful­filled. He was actu­ally instru­mental in pulling them out of their six-year movie hiatus in the first place. In a meet­ing with Dis­ney, he cas­u­ally asked if they were doing any­thing with the Mup­pets. The response wasn’t massively enthu­si­astic — they were doing abso­lutely noth­ing with them, a situ­ation that prob­ably would have con­tin­ued had Segel not been given the green light for a quick refresh.

It’s not exactly what I’d call a reboot how­ever, as the Mup­pets are the same as they ever have been. There’s no major retool­ing of char­ac­ters here. Instead, the story is more a gentle reminder that they’re still around, and still avail­able for (show)business, pulling them back into the lime­light before they slip too far into the dusty corners of people’s memories.

It’s a back to basics approach, that shuns drop­ping the char­ac­ters into another lit­er­ary tale. I think if Segel had gone down that more obvi­ous route, it would have felt like “just another Mup­pet movie”. Instead, it feels like a new begin­ning, but one that’s respect­ful to the characters.

As a res­ult, the story is actu­ally quite simple. It’s a case of “get­ting the gang back together for one more show”. Segel and his brother, Wal­ter, are lifelong fans of The Mup­pet Show. But a visit to LA to see their her­oes doesn’t meet their expect­a­tions when they dis­cover that The Mup­pets Stu­dio Tour is in a huge state of dis­repair, and that every­one has dis­ban­ded, some of them to the far corners of the globe (not that long dis­tances prove a hindrance, thanks to one par­tic­u­larly good sight gag).

The Muppets aren't puppets

New Mup­pet, Wal­ter, is prob­ably the film’s high­light, a  funny, almost etern­ally pos­it­ive, instantly likable char­ac­ter. The most amus­ing thing is that nobody ever thinks to ques­tion how he could be related to Jason Segel. There’s not even any know­ing winks to cam­era, apart from one line of dia­logue early on, where Wal­ter com­pares him­self to Segel, and says, “I know what you’re think­ing. We could be twins.”

It’s bonkers. But holds true to the one simple rule of the Mup­pets, enshrined in a dusty old book, deep in the bowels of The Jim Hen­son Com­pany (care of Dis­ney). The Mup­pets aren’t pup­pets. They’re people. Like some sort of weird sub spe­cies of human. Absorb this know­ledge, give in to it, accept that a pig and a frog really can repro­duce, and you too will believe that Mup­pets are real.

It all makes for a charm­ing movie that’s impossible to hate. I think you’d need to be sit­ting naked in the frozen tun­dra of the North Pole, with a heart dipped in liquid nitro­gen, to stand even a remote chance of not warm­ing to it. It ends on a high note, unsur­pris­ingly, and it’ll be inter­est­ing to see whether The Mup­pets is a genu­ine launch­pad for fur­ther box office suc­cess, or if it’s noth­ing more than a brief resur­gence in pop­ular­ity before they slide back into obscurity.