Jason Segel has made his love letter to the Muppets. This nostalgic comedy is clearly made by fans. It takes some vibe from the TV series and some from the features. While it might not have the spark of the original MUPPET MOVIE or the very best of THE MUPPET SHOW, it respects those origins and presents a heartfelt film for a cynical world.
Gary (Segel, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL) and Walter (Jim Parsons, TV's BIG BANG THEORY) are brothers, but Gary is a man and Walter is a muppet. As kids they discovered THE MUPPET SHOW together, but Walter has never outgrown them and Gary has never outgrown his bond with Walter, much to the frustration of his Pollyannaish girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams, ENCHANTED). She just smiles when Gary tells her Walter is coming along with them on their anniversary trip to L.A., the home of the Muppets studio.
When they arrive at the Muppet studio and theater, it is rundown. Walter overhears Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, AMERICAN BEAUTY), a oil tycoon, talking about his plans to buy the studio and tear it down. Walter is heartbroken, so Gary takes him to Kermit's house in order to convince the frog icon to do something to save the studio. In traditional Muppet fashion, Kermit sets out to bring the gang back together to put on a show.
Fozie is now working Reno as the frontman for The Moopets, a bad Muppets cover band. Gonzo has started a successful toilet business. Miss Piggy moved away from Kermit and has taken a job as the editor of the plus sized edition of French Vogue. Kermit takes responsibility for people forgetting the Muppets. In a great scene, Kermit tells a TV exec that kids deserve better than shows like "Punch My Teacher."
The film is at its best when it finds new gags in the spirit of the Muppet vibe. Kermit's introduction with blaring light and chorus music has a humorous practical origin. The bits that try to recreate classic gags are far less successful. Has many small characters piling up under a large overcoat ever been funny? And the film doesn't miss the tradition of songs. Big dance numbers and quiet sentimental ballads are mixed in throughout. All of them are lively and fun. "Are You a Muppet or a Man?" was a stand out because you get to see what Segel looks like as a muppet. But the human version of Walter is even funnier.
There is a lot going on in this film... maybe too much for smaller kids. Segel and Nicholas Stoller's screenplay weaves together the stories of Gary and Mary, Gary and Walter and then Kermit and Piggy. Each story has its own charm and work well together, but having so many stories to balance, each has less impact overall.
The moment that defines the film is one during the telethon. Kermit's big number is "Rainbow Connection." It brought a tear to my eye and reminded me of just how good THE MUPPET MOVIE was. But it also made me wish this film had found its own "Rainbow Connection" moment. It's more MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN than THE MUPPET MOVIE. But it lets us forget MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND. Thank you Mr. Segel for reminding us what the Muppets are all about.