I would run through fire for Kermit the Frog, if he asked me to. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I don’t think I would have felt or said the same walking out of a theater after seeing Muppets from Space in 1999. The Muppets have been in decline since Jim Henson’s death. They’ve had moments, but haven’t really been right since their creator was taken from us, all too soon on a day back in 1990. They’ll never be quite the same again, but The Muppets captures a larger share of Jim Henson’s magic than anything else has since his death. It’s more than enough to make this one of the best movies you’ll see this year.
The Muppets resurrects everything Jim Henson’s characters used to stand for, both literally and figuratively. The movie’s plot involves two brothers teaming up with Kermit to bring the Muppets back together for a telethon which will save their abandoned Studios from an evil oil baron (played by an unbelievably multi-talented Chris Cooper), but it’s really a movie about things far less tangible and far more important. Yes Amy Adams is absolutely luminous as Mary, the long-suffering girlfriend of a Muppet superfan; and yes Jason Segel is tremendous as Gary, that Muppet superfan trying to help his strangely muppety brother Walter find a place in the world. And, oh wow is it great to see Kermit and Gonzo and Piggy and Zoot and Sweetums and Camilla the Chicken and every single one of the Muppets back on screen being the characters they were meant to be. And oh my god are the songs amazing, the musical numbers (many of which were composed by Flight of the Conchords genius Bret McKenzie) so toe-tapping that there’s a very good chance audiences may at some point burst into a spontaneous a sing along, if only to keep the music welling up in their throats from overflowing. It’s that perfect. But The Muppets is so much more than the sum of its parts.
More than anything The Muppets is the story of a war on cynicism. When we rediscover Kermit, he’s beaten down by the world’s bitterness. He wanders the halls of his mansion looking at the pictures of his friends, and wondering what he did wrong. The Muppets aren’t famous anymore, we learn, people would rather watch a television show in which students punch their teachers. Or so it seems. Together with Gary, Mary, and Walter the Muppets fight back against this dismal state of affairs by simply being themselves, and using their natural ability for finding joy in life to put on a show. By the time the movie’s over the Muppets are of course famous again, but more importantly cynicism has been defeated. Whether they beat Chris Cooper’s oil baron or not doesn’t actually matter. Laughter, the third most important gift you can give anyone, triumphs and the world Jim Henson created lives and breathes again.
Watching The Muppets is like being inside joy. The movie’s darker moments (and there are some, often also highlighted by amazing music and in one case a blistering rap) only emphasize just how alive and full of hope this story is. In that context, singing and dancing seems natural, and The Muppets does a lot of it. The movie’s theme song is “Life’s A Happy Song”, a brilliant musical number performed by Segel, Adams, and others whose cameos I wouldn’t dream of spoiling. It’s more than just a song and dance sequence though, it’s an anthem for everything that’s beautiful and wonderful about the Muppets and their resurrection, here, in this movie filled with laughter and electrifying life.
I’d run through fire for Kermit the Frog, if he asked me to. Not because I believe he’s real, but because I believe in the things that he and the Muppets, unlike anything else in our pop culture saturated world, represent. I’m not going to tell you what that is, I suspect it’s different and yet equally important for everyone who understands. Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.