Directed by: James Bobin
Written by: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller (screenplay), Jim Henson (characters),
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobsen
The entirety of this reboot of The Muppets franchise is about why it’s necessary. The Muppets will be duking it out with Scream 4 for the title of “Most self-reflexive movie of 2011,” and sadly it’s the same mess of mixed quality and mediocre execution.
Jason Segel and Amy Adams play Gary and Mary, two people who, along with Gary’s Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), attempt to get the Muppet gang back together for a farewell show. Segel co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, and it’s unfortunate that such a worthy premise oddly can’t decide if it wants to be funny or not.
In structure and (sometimes) tone this reboot resembles the Seinfeld Reunion season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Kermit The Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire) joins the oddball trio to reassemble his Muppet posse, with Curb’s Seinfeld reunion line “We’ll do it in a way that won’t be lame,” being implied instead of spoken. The Muppets are battling to be relevant, and the visual gags and several self-reflexive references are made to do battle with forced pathos instead of being front-and-center.
Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and dozens of other famous Muppets attempt to raise $10 million (and reboot audience interest) so that they can reclaim their seized theater from an oil baron (Chris Cooper). Gary, Mary and Walter kick-start Kermit into reassembling that gang, though the plot is intentionally forced and merely a by-product of the gags. This is the main reason why it feels so stale and unfunny, because this story is meant to step aside and make way for humor, but the humor is sorely lacking.
Funny gags do abound when The Muppets actually put on their reunion show with kidnapped celebrity host Jack Black, but until then it’s a very mixed bag. Director James Bobin does all he can to give visual life to a show where many of the characters must only be shown from the waist up, and admirably instills aesthetic flair in an early musical number where Kermit sings about getting the group back together. The many portraits scattered around his house burst into life and join him, and make the lackluster song more bearable.
The off-beat casting of Adams and Segel gave promise to this reboot, though it’s hard to imagine why they and the unknown Walter needed to be main characters or even included at all. Had the actual Muppets been front and center, the ensemble comedy that made them iconic would’ve followed and this whole serious/comedy mess could’ve largely been avoided.
Most of the conflict in the story feels forced even when it’s not supposed to, especially between Gary and Mary. The screenplay is so meta that it is able to glide past most of its flaws, but the lack of comedy is something that it can’t escape. A plethora of self-mocking celebrity guests does help elevate it past some of the speed bumps, but it’s poor compensation.
The Muppets had the potential (at least from the trailers) to continue its tradition of pop cultural mockery and humorous yet clean absurdity. Unlike many of the people behind this movie, I think there will always be a place for the warm humor and grand weirdness of Kermit, et al. However, if this is The Muppets’ attempt to become relevant again, they have failed at the game while pretending to be above playing it.