Sometimes the easiest way to tell a story is to base it on reality, even when it’s a story that involves a load of Muppets. That’s certainly what Jason Segel and Co did when they decided to bring back Jim Henson’s legendary creations for another movie; they made the story about bringing back the Muppets from the wilderness. And, in both reality and the movie, their comeback was a roaring success.
It’s been a while since the Muppets were on top form, arguably only their take on A Christmas Carol has been up to much since Henson’s death, with their last real outing – Wizard Of Oz – largely ignored. The Muppet Show itself hasn’t been on our screens since the early 80s, and other attempts to bring them back to the small screens have been short-lived. But there’s still a lot of affection out there, so how to use that to make a successful film?
Putting it simply: just do it right. Don’t shoehorn them into a famous story and hope it will work, just focus on what made them so popular and so funny in the first place. That’s what the makers of The Muppets (the film) have done, going right back to the Show for inspiration and telling a simple feelgood story about friendship and redemption with good jokes and great songs.
Segel and Amy Adams are delightful human leads throughout, making you almost really care about their paper-thin characters and story arc, and there’s a host of cameos from people like Jack Black, Dave Grohl, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong, amongst others. But the real stars are always the Muppets themselves, even though most are now voiced by different actors to their glory days.
Occasionally those voices don’t quite sound right, but with Henson gone and Frank Oz retired from it, that can’t really be helped. Kermit, Fozzie and Miss Piggy‘s characters remain intact though, and it’s not hard to be drawn into their story, along with that of new Muppet Walter. With Flight Of The Conchords star Bret McKenzie providing catchy songs like Life’s A Happy Song and Man Or Muppet, it’s a wonderful film for Muppets fans old and new.
There’s a couple of mis-steps (Chris Cooper’s out-of-place rap, for example), but what Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller have done so well is to ground everything that happens in the original Muppet Show history, packing the film with references to it and brief glimpses of some of the characters (even Wayne and Wanda make an appearance near the end). Ironically, that means that characters who came into it late and only became stars in the films, like Rizzo The Rat, barely get seen, but with so many Muppets and so little time, that’s not really a problem and it’s a delightful nostalgia-fest for fans of the show.
On the home video release, there’s a typically off-the-wall fake behind-the-scenes documentary and the obligatory commentary track and gag reel (has anyone managed to watch more than 10 seconds of one of those?), but the real gold is in the film itself. A sequel has already been green-lit (pun not intended), which won’t feature Segel but will involved director and co-writer James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller, so hopefully it will be another great chapter in this story.
They say when you set out to do something, you should know what you are intending to achieve with it. When Ridley Scott began work on Prometheus, it was as a prequel to the Alien franchise, but then the muddled announcement came out that it was only vaguely connected. But, make no mistake, this IS an Alien prequel, but the confusion over what it's meant to be means that it fails to be anything particularly worthwhile.