Adapting properties from my generation’s childhood has become something of a cottage industry for most movie studios nowadays. Often times, the properties are turned into successful albeit ugly and soulless approximations of the icons they sought to emulate. Transformers and G.I. Joe both turned in successful modern incarnations that have bred franchises, but neither one really got the appeal of their fore-bearers. They were like brand new acts, wearing the old favorites’ uniforms.
It’s usually things like cynicism, or irony that torpedo what could have otherwise been a successful rebirth. The new artists fail to understand the innate, earnest appeal of the original, and as such respond to the directive to recreate with an impulse to modernize and satirize. They feel, it seems, that a hip disconnect will allow our ironic, post-modern culture to more easily digest their own childhoods.
You manage to sidestep that impulse, though, and instead deliver a sincere, earnest, delightful time at the movies. From start to finish, you manage to entertain in new and modern, self-aware ways, while also living up to the spirit and heart that made all previous Muppet excursions so impossibly enduring.
Much of the credit for your success has been rightfully given to Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, who wrote your screenplay. They have an obvious affection for these characters, and do their utmost to preserve the soul of these beloved childhood friends. Yet they also mature the characters, creating a number of affecting moments wherein the fantastical icons we grew to love, like Kermit, Fozzie, Animal, and Miss Piggy, all have to face their very human relationships and emotions that they have neglected or denied.
It lends a strange emotional resonance to your tale. These characters have been absent from my own life for so long, that the joy of seeing them come back to the big screen was just like revisiting an old friend. That their arc so closely parallels the arc of my own involvement with them is a genius stroke. They have to find one another and come to terms with the reality that there is a place that they filled in one another’s hearts that has been left long absent, just as anyone in the theater revisiting them for the first time in a while must.
That’s not to make you seem like a drama, or something that depends solely on coyly plucking at heart strings. You are an amusing, slapstick, meta-humor infused romp through nostalgia and pop culture. Segel, who stars alongside Amy Adams as the naive young couple Gary and Mary, is the human brother of Walter, a Muppet in life if not profession. Together, the three of them embark on a crusade to bring the Muppets together for a grand telethon to help save their theater for being destroyed. To see where each of the Muppets has arrived in their years of absence, and to see how they come together to help one another find their place in this new and cynical world, is truly a delight.
The self-awareness that has been a burden to other films is still there, but the difference is that you use this knowledge as a means of defending the place for an unaltered product, rather than trying to turn yourself into something new. You defiantly declare, “Yes I know that the world is full of reality TV and mature content aimed at younger viewers, but I think there might still be a place amongst the rabble and hate for a simple, pure, well-meaning brand of entertainment.”
And entertain you do. The Muppets’ trademark celebrity cameos abound, making every moment a surprise waiting to happen. In addition to the jokes and cameos that will have people rolling in the aisles, there is also the slew of songs and set pieces that will have people singing and talking all the way out to their cars. I saw you two days ago, and yet I still find myself humming your charming original and adapted tunes to myself from time to time.
What more can really be said about you? As a comedy, the act of talking about you in too much detail is treading on dangerous ground. To speak too much would be to risk robbing many jokes of their power to surprise. So I will leave you with this final plaudit: you leave me in a state of eager anticipation for your sequel, and leave me with hope for a full-scale Muppet renaissance; a hope that your ending turns out to be a prophetic harbinger of things to come. I can’t wait to share you with everyone I know.
Life’s a happy song,
Brian J. Roan