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.