Knocking the stuffing out of far flashier kiddie fare, the Muppets are back in this, their first big screen adventure since 1999’s Muppets From Space. It’s clear the rest has done them good. Confidently steered by Mighty Boosh director James Bobin and with music courtesy of Bret McKenzie (Flight Of The Conchords), The Muppets is a perky franchise freshen-up that proves the fuzzy critters have lost none of their appeal – bad jokes and all.
What’s happened in those intervening 12 years? Well, Kermit’s still the star, but he wouldn’t even be here without screenwriter/co-star Jason Segel. Having built a small empire out of his cuddly manchild routine (in films Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up), Segel’s used his newfound powers for good in resurrecting Jim Henson’s fur and fuzz creations. Though initially an odd project for an actor best known for very adult humour and very full-frontal nudity, it’s a marriage made in heaven – not least because Segel knows exactly what makes the Muppets tick (no, it’s not just a hand up the derrière).
That much is clear even in the film’s opening moments, as we’re introduced to Segel’s Gary, one half of a Bert and Ernie-style duo. The other half is his brother Walter – who just happens to be a Muppet. A huge fan of Kermie and co, Walter crashes his brother’s romantic LA getaway with Mary (Amy Adams, perfectly cast), but is traumatised when he discovers that the Muppet Studios are being bought out by green-loving oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). How to save the studios? Duh, get the long-disbanded Muppets back together again!
As Walter and Kermit track down each of the froggy one’s former co-stars, we’re treated to the requisite cameos (including a crowd-pleasing appearance by a sitcom star) and numerous sparkly musical numbers we expect of anything bearing the Muppet name. It’s the latter that make the biggest impression, with just about everybody involved whetting their windpipes for leg-kicking show-stoppers that do exactly that – Cooper’s aisle-rocking rap ditty is a particularly batty highlight.
The big question is, are the Muppets still relevant in the 21st century, especially as the only people who probably remember them are now over 30? Well, Segel and Bobin’s film is the answer – a gratifyingly old school ode to a time when movie magic was, maybe not simpler, but somehow purer. Evoking misty-eyed nostaglia and gut-busting giggles, their Muppet movie is a colourful kaleidoscope that wants to do one thing and one thing only – make you laugh. It’s clearly doing something right – The Muppets is already the highest-grossing Muppet movie ever made. Not bad for a film about a frog. 4/5