There is a plot. And it's an old one. A new character comes along and joins an established team, everybody learns to appreciate the new character and, in a moment of crisis, he helps save the day.
The new character is Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan who also happens to be a Muppet even if he hasn't yet learned to see himself the way he sees his heroes. Walter's brother Gary (Jason Segel, not adopted by the way, they're just brothers, because Muppets aren't puppets, they're real, got it?) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) leave their home of Smalltown -- after an elaborate, buoyant, bar-setting musical number involving the entire town -- for a vacation in Los Angeles. They're on a Muppet pilgrimage, but what they don't understand is that the Muppets aren't exactly living as a happy, unified gang anymore. For unknown reasons, the most entertaining group in the world has gone their separate ways. Kermit is holed up in his mansion, Fozzy works at a casino in a sketchy Muppet tribute band, Gonzo sells plumbing fixtures, Rowlf lies around in a hammock and Piggy is, naturellement, the editor of Paris Vogue. Walter's job? Get everybody in the same room again, preferably telling jokes and singing "Rainbow Connection."
The dissolution of the clan is a nod to a lot of factors that have plagued the off-screen Muppets over the past decade: the death of Jim Henson, a diminished overall presence in popular culture and, when projects do come along, a worried sense that they aren't firing on all cylinders, that their glory days are behind them.
But that's over. They're back in excellent form, honoring the legacy built by Henson, and moviegoers and longtime Muppet nerds owe a debt of gratitude to Muppet superfan Segel for having the nerve to keep asking for a shot at making a film with them. Because all old-timer grumbling aside (Frank Oz is, from all accounts, not pleased) this is not only the perfect Muppet reunion, it feels like a shot of happiness vitamins.
The Muppets job is a tricky one. They have to make you laugh, whether you're an adult or a child, and they have to do it with gags that operate on a level of kid innocence and adult sophistication without pandering, inappropriate innuendo or double-entendre. And the creative team behind the felt and fake fur, both the veterans and the newcomers, feel perfectly in tune with each other, not only effectively rebooting these characters but also re-earning all the love that fans feel for them. They work clean, they work smart and they do it all with a crazy enthusiasm that, instead of wearing you down or grating on your nerves, leaves you feeling energized.
Putting it plainly, it's the best family film and one of the best mainstream American films of this year. It's genuinely witty, funny and moving, a reminder that flying solo is fine but that friends are the ones who love you, teach you about yourself and help you find your way. It's also a lesson in how a big "event" movie can deliver real joy, something they often forget to do in the rush to "brand" and sell whatever tie-in products the studio has lined up in its ancillary revenue campaign.
So no worries. Old Muppet fans will do cartwheels, new kid fans will learn the magic of that felt and fake fur, and they'll all want to see it again. I know I do.