Gary (Jason Segel, TV's 'How I Met Your Mother') is taking his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams, "Enchanted") on a trip of a lifetime to L.A. to celebrate their 10th year together, but he cannot leave behind his brother Walter (voice of Peter Liz) who is beside himself with the idea of being able to visit the studio where his favorite TV show was shot. Once there, though, Walter overhears the nefarious plot of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, "The company Men"), an evil oil baron who plans on tearing it down to drill for oil. There's only one thing to be done - find Kermit the Frog (voice of Steve Whitemire) and enlist him to round up "The Muppets."
Jason Segel's already declared his love of Muppets in the coda to his film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," but when he was asked about his next film project, he wanted to go whole hog. And so he wrote this story with "Get Him to the Greek's" Niholas Stoller (based on Jim Henson's original characters) and teamed up with "The Flight of the Conchords'" James Bobin to direct and singer/star Brett McKenzie to write original songs. It's great to see the old gang, but once they've been reunited the film mostly runs out of gas until the climactic telethon gives it a little juice in the last act.
The story's beginning is a good one. No one in Smalltown, U.S.A. seems to notice that Gary's brother Walter is, er, a little different. Walter flips when he discovers The Muppets and becomes a huge fan, right down to his Kermit wristwatch. Gary tells Walter that Mary feels 'the more the merrier' about taking him along, but she is clearly less enthused when we see her with Gary, insisting that they at least spend their actual anniversary alone. The three take to the streets in the first song and dance number, “Life’s a Happy Song," and it is here where we begin to see the failings of the film. Firstly, it's often downright ugly, the high def photography unflattering to all non-Muppets (Adams looks pasty and slightly puffy and Segel has an alarming number of moles on his face and neck; later we can clearly tell Rashida Jones is wearing face makeup). The production design for Smalltown's town square is so relentlessly cheery it's an overload of color that cancels itself out. The song, with the exception of one failure-to-find-a-rhyme gag, is instantly forgettable, as are all remaining original songs, a huge disappointment from a Conchord songwriter.
Things look up again when the rest of the Muppets begin to appear and begin to bash down the fourth wall (the gang travel 'by map' and argue over their montage bits). Kermit lives in a crumbling mansion, they find Fozzie leading a fifth-tier tribute band (The Moopets) in Reno, Gonzo is a plumbing king and Miss Piggie is the editor of French Vogue (with Emily Blunt in an amusing nod to "Devil Wears Prada" as her assistant). Once rebanded, the TV exec who greenlit their telethon (Rashida Jones, TV's 'Parks and Recreation') insists they find a real celebrity host. So the gang must clean up their battered studio, keep Richman and his minions at bay and, after Kermit exhausts his rolodex, kidnap Jack Black to emcee. Oh, and Walter needs to overcome his fears in order to join the group he so obviously belongs with. So much of this feels like filler, albeit filler full of Muppet fluff.
Overall, the film is more generically happy than edgy or witty. Segel and Adams are perky, Jones is an unconvincing hardassed exec and is Chris Cooper is far from villainous (and not a very good rapper). Cameos come fast and furious beginning with Mickey Rooney on a Smalltown park bench and continuing through Alan Arkin as a studio tour guide, Kristen Schaal not being funny as an anger management councelor (where the gang find Animal) and Zach Galifianakis as Hobo Joe, the Muppets' (initial) lone audience member. 'The Big Bang Theory's' Jim Parsons scores the most clever cameo appearance hands down. Also be on the lookout for Sarah Silverman, James Carville, Ken Jeong, Judd Hirsch, 'Modern Family's' Rico Rodriguez and Neil Patrick Harris.
The closing telethon is a mix of nostalgia and fun, with an oddly moving final performance from Walter and if you stick around for closing credits you can sing along to "Mah Na Mah Na" with cast members.
"The Muppets" is preceded by a Pixar Toy Story short "Small Fries," which is far cheekier and satisfying overall than the feature it follows, so don't be late. In it, the creative minds at Pixar bring back Bonnie and her gang to have a field day with fast food promotional tie-ins. "Small Fries" gets an A, but "The Muppets" only score a B-.
Robin did not see this film.
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