Best Movies of All Time + [Steve Whitmire]

THE MUPPETS

THE MUPPETS

"No drums! No drums! Jack Black said no drums!"
-- Animal

The Muppets is a 2011 comedy film directed by James Bobin that serves as the first theatrically-released Muppets film in twelve years. This film tells the story of a young man/Muppet named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) who dreams of one day making his way to the Muppet Studios to meet his heroes and idols from "The Muppet Show." When his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) decide to make their way to Los Angeles for their tenth anniversary, they allow Walter to tag along as they plan to visit the Muppet Studios. When they arrive, however, they find the Studios broken down and deserted, and Walter unwittingly hears of a nefarious plot for oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to tear down the Studios so that he can drill for oil beneath it. The only way to stop him is to raise ten million dollars before the Muppets' contract expires, so, with the help of Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire), the group rounds up the old gang to put on one last show in an attempt to save their old studio from total destruction.

I have to say that when I first heard about a new Muppets film, I wasn't quite sure exactly what I should be expecting. It had been so long since their last theatrical endeavor (1999's Muppets from Space) that it almost felt as though the idea of the Muppets had grown a little stale. However, with a fantastic ad campaign that saw the Muppets filmmakers ripping on trailers from other films this year, I started to get a little bit excited about the prospect. Then the film opened to universally positive reviews - it currently holds a 97% approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com - so it was only a matter of time until I could find myself sitting in a theater waiting to see the movie.

(On a quick side note, I do have to mention the short film - Small Fry - that plays just before the feature-length film. It uses the characters from the Toy Story films and gives us a little glimpse at one of their most recent escapades. It's a fun little film that sets the mood quite well going into our Muppet adventure.)

And now for my actual review. I honestly don't know exactly where to start, so I suppose I'll start with the screenplay, as I often do. Segel partnered with Nicholas Stoller to bring this Muppet adventure to life, and boy, what a doozy did they create. They gave us a Muppet film that pulls at the heartstrings and brings a certain level of drama to the comedy-centric characters we've already grown to know and love. Had they simply made the story about the Muppets attempting to save their old studio, I think the level of nostalgia audiences would have felt would have been enough to make this movie succeed; however, there's so much more working on an even deeper level in this particular film. With the introduction of the new Muppet Walter, we also have to learn about his backstory, and his entire character arc alone is enough to make this movie a sentimental favorite. Add the fact that Segel's character Gary as well as Kermit the Frog also undergo massive arcs, and you've got the makings of a heavy-handed weep-fest that's going to leave you emotionally drained. Fortunately, the comedy comes in droves as well, and the balance that the filmmakers have created between the comedy and the drama is so well-placed that the audience is able to be thoroughly entertained all while going through the necessary emotions. For the comedy, we do have quite a bit of slapstick and gag humor (it wouldn't be a Muppet movie without it), but the dialogue is also crisp and refreshingly original, making this an all-together great screenplay that, although a tad bit predictable, still managed to hook me into the overlapping storylines. But I think what's best about the screenplay is that it's the Muppets taking a serious look at themselves. It's been a long time since they've been in the limelight, and that's the problem they find themselves facing in this film. It's all very metatheatrical, and it plays off surprisingly well considering the type of fare we're used to seeing from these guys. Kudos, Segel and Stoller. You've created a fantastic screenplay here.

And now, for the acting. Let's start with the Muppets themselves, shall we? The Muppets themselves are the same characters they've been for years, and having them on-screen brings so much nostalgia that you can forgive the fact that most of the main Muppets don't really sound the way they once did. To be fair, you could always chalk that up to the fact that they're "aging," but the change in the sound of some of their voices is rather blatant. The addition of Walter is a pleasant surprise, and he and Jason Segel play off one another well. Walter is a Muppet raised in a human environment, so you can imagine where his character arc is going to lie. Segel and Adams are fantastic, playing their parts to an absolute tee, and I even have to give Chris Cooper a lot of credit for the work he did as our villain. I can't imagine anyone truly wanting to play the villain in a Muppet movie (unless you're Tim Curry in 1996's Muppet Treasure Island), but he pulled it off exceptionally well.

However, the real thing you're going to notice in terms of acting is the massive amount of cameo appearances we're getting throughout the film. While some are longer than others, it's a little bit astounding at the caliber of people they got to be in this flick. Jack Black plays a larger, and ultimately rather important, part of the story, but I would still consider his performance more of a cameo than anything else. Rashida Jones plays the television executive who gives the Muppets the opportunity to put on their telethon, and like Black, her role is a bit larger but still nothing more than an extended cameo. Also be on the lookout for the likes of Alan Arkin, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch, Mickey Rooney, and Zach Galifianakis.

One other reason this film proves to be so fantastic is the fact that we're getting an absolutely stellar soundtrack to set the tone of the film. While we're getting some fantastic '80s music (such as the "We Built This City" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and some classic Muppets fare like their theme song and "Rainbow Connection," we're also getting some fantastic original music. Of the new music, I'd have to say my personal favorites are "Life's a Happy Song," "Pictures in My Head" and "Man or Muppet," which you can listen to below. I'd be shocked if this film doesn't score at least one Academy Award nomination for one of these songs, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

To put it plainly, The Muppets is fantastic. It's a return to the glory days of Muppet films old, and it returns in such a manner that it should only be a matter of time until we see another Muppet film, be it a sequel or another Muppet-centric work. I'd just be shocked if this, their most shining moment, proved to be their last. This is easily one of the most entertaining films you're bound to see this holiday season, so if you haven't had a chance to see it yet, drop what you're doing and head to a theater. I know I'll be taking it in again sometime very soon.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up