You may be a young person, in which case you'll have to take my word for this: aging sucks. Not only do you have to deal with waning energy levels and suddenly faulty body parts, but you often find yourself forgetting, ignoring, or outright dismissing several of your earliest childhood friends. I feel no real loss about losing touch with He-Man or the Transformers, given that they're crap, but even as I approach 40 years of age I find myself fiercely loyal to old friends created by Charles Schulz, Chuck Jones, and Jim Henson. Of course, as time goes by, my beloved Peanuts, Looney Tunes, and Muppets may be employed for a wide array of marketing gimmicks and greed-inspired "comebacks," but I'm more than content to live with my Muppet Show / Muppet Movie(s) memories and let the past fade into a warm sense of nostalgia.
Never did I expect that the Muppets would earn a comeback as warm and wonderful as this one. The seventh feature film from the immortal Jim Henson creations, The Muppets is, quite simply, everything a lifelong Muppet maniac would want in a new movie. It's sly and sweet, kooky and clever, warm and witty, silly for kids and subversive for grown-ups. It offers a refreshingly earnest "let's put on a show with some great old friends" attitude, it pokes fun at the Muppets' present state of pop culture limbo, and best of all: it knows why a man approaching 40 would be interested in a new Muppets movie -- and it delivers the old-school goods with a remarkable sense of craft and confidence. This is not a Muppets for a new generation; it's the Muppets as cool as they always have been; it's the younger generation that needs to catch up.
The plot is typical Muppets simplicity: young Walter and his brother Gary (Jason Segel), along with Gary's adorable girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) decide to take a trip to Los Angeles and visit the legendary Muppets Studio -- but quickly become embroiled in a battle between the now-outdated Muppet menagerie and the oily advances of a tycoon known as Les Richman. Much like the first (classic) Muppet movie, the new one is mostly a bunch of "let's round up the gang!" material, and that's more than enough "plot stuff" for me. But tucked beneath an endearingly simple story lies a lot of basic subtext about the power of "good" nostalgia, the importance of loyalty, and the essential need for humor, music, dancing, and a little bit of well-crafted sweetness in a very cynical world.
Although crisply directed by first-timer James Bobin, the bulk of the praise goes to Muppet junkie Jason Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller. From the very beginning there was little doubt that these guys had only the best of intentions for the Muppet gang, but, well, you know what people often say about "good intentions." Let's just say they don't always result in a good film. To my inestimable happiness and mild surprise, Bobin, Segel, Stoller and company have pulled off a true coup in the realm of popular culture. They've resurrected a beloved menagerie by, get this, focusing on what made the Muppets so adorable in the first place: personality, kindness, and a sly sense of humor that tickles the kids while satisfying the grown-ups.
Bolstered by a handful of great tunes, a few standout cameo appearances, a deviously delightful turn by Chris Cooper, and more good jokes than six other family flicks combined, The Muppets may not be a perfect family film, but I can't remember the last time this wonderful zoo showed me such a great time. Whether or not this entry will stand up to the original The Muppet Movie or kick-start a new series of films, I cannot say. All I know is that I'm ferociously protective of these particular friends, and I'm thrilled that they're back in the spotlight for a little while. I believe that the late, great Jim Henson would be very pleased with this movie.
The Muppets opens wide across the U.S. on Wednesday, November 23. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.