Monday Morning Review: 'The Muppets' Shows a Few Stitches When You Look Closer, But Still Holds Together

Monday Morning Review: 'The Muppets' Shows a Few Stitches When You Look Closer, But Still Holds Together

Nov 28, 2011

Now that The Muppets is out -- and has, ideally, been seen by the young and the young-at-heart -- a more deep discussion can be had about the film's merits as a film; now that we know it's good, you might say, we can in fact discuss how it's good, and the rare places it isn't. Co-scripted by star Jason Segel and Nicolas Stoller, The Muppets could have been a simple exercise in undusting -- trotting out the Muppet characters to see if nostalgia alone could earn a few bucks at the box office -- but instead, it was scripted to give the Muppets real history and real life. (If the characters in Crazy Stupid Love had talked as intelligently about their feelings as the Muppets do, that piece of trash would have been much shorter, and much better. ...)

And yet, at the same time, there are a few felt-covered deus ex machinas that we have to accept for the film. Take Walter's whistling -- a show-stopping moment of grace where the newest Muppet uses his talents to be part of the show. We don't really get any set-up for that -- we see Walter whistling once, sitting at the piano -- so when it's revealed Walter is a whistling virtuoso, it's a bit out of left field. Again, it's not a film-killer ... but it does make you wish for a little more set-up in that regard.

Many people object to the presence of Segel and Amy Adams in the film, saying they add little. (In fact, even Kermit joked about Segel's presence on Saturday Night Live, dropping by to puncture the hosting Segel's ego: "Oh, sure, because you know what people say when they go to a Muppet movie -- let's see the human.") But I disagree with that -- the fact is that the Muppets always need to bounce off of humans to be the best at their goofy anarchy, and Segel and Adams are superb in that very specific role -- and that their relationship with the Muppets, as friends of a fan, is an important part of establishing how long it's been since the Muppets were on TV.

The other place where The Muppets shows a few seams is with bad guy Tex Richman, as played by Chris Cooper. It's explained -- on the full-length version of Cooper's song-and-dance number on the soundtrack -- that Richman once had a 10th birthday ruined by the Muppets, after which he has a) never laughed and b)hated the Muppets. But that bridge in the song isn't in the film -- which leaves Cooper's catchphrase "maniacal laugh" a bit of a mystery. (It seems odd to be delving into a song for apocryphal plot notes to interject in a film; at the same time, The Muppets is a pretty odd movie.)

A lot of this stuff, it should be noted, is just a natural consequence of trying to get the movie on-screen. Segel himself said in interviews that the original rough cut of The Muppets was 3 hours, and you can imagine what kind of stuff hit the cutting room floor. (in early trailers, there's a jail sequence -- with Wanda Sykes and Danny Trejo making cameos -- that doesn't even show up in the film.) Even so, with those visible marks where cuts were made and a few lumps in the stitched-together quilt of the final film, I'm pleased to note that these flaws are more interesting than ruinous -- and, considering the film's cost-to-profit ratio, sure to be answered or fixed in future movies. The Muppets isn't perfect -- but, more importantly, it knows that the Muppets themselves aren't perfect, and it truly understands how that messy, human fallibility is a very big part of why we love them.  

Categories: Features, Reviews
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