The Muppets: a joyful trip down memory lane
Following the recent excellent nostalgic films Hugo and The Artist, The Muppets are the latest to hark back to happier times with their self-titled first film in over a decade. And their film is every bit as feel-good and joyous as the aforementioned pair, offering us a wildly enthusiastic celebration of simple, straightforward humour.
The nostalgic tone is set up right from the beginning of the film, where we are introduced to a new muppet Walter and his human brother Gary (played by co-writer Jason Segal) who became muppet obsessives after seeing on TV the now long-cancelled The Muppet Show in their childhood. To celebrate his 10th Anniversary together with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), Gary arranges a trip to Los Angeles , inviting Walter along to visit the fabled muppet theatre.
But upon arrival they are shocked to find the theatre virtually abandoned, the implication being that in this day and age the muppets have become mere washed up has-beens from a bygone age. And throughout the film the writers gently poke fun at how time has left the muppets behind, with many great gags about how no one likes them anymore and how the younger generation doesn’t even know who they are (one boy innocently asks Kermit the Frog ‘are you one of the teenage mutant ninja turtles?’).
But ultimately The Muppets is a celebration of those times, as Walter, Gary and Mary convince Kermit to put on a new show to help raise enough money to rescue the muppet theatre from the clutches of oil barren and pantomime villain Tex Richman (the character who has induced bizarre accusations of communism towards the film by Fox News). To get the show up and running the four of them must first travel the world (often parodically 'by map' through montage sequences) to find all of the old team and convince them to take part in the show. This is when the laughs really begin to come thick and fast as the much loved muppets steal the show, as the writers make full use of the comic-potential of the muppets’ post-fame lives. Miss Piggy we learn is now editor of vogue, Gonzo a high ranking plumbing magnate and, most wonderfully of all, the manic drummer Animal is found in an anger management group alongside Jack Black.
Fozzie Bear meanwhile is now making a living as part of ‘The Moopets’, a hard-edged muppet tribute group described with gentle rib-nudging as a ‘hard cynical act for a hard, cynical world’, where TV shows like ‘Punch Teacher’ dominate the schedules. Fozzie himself however upholds his terrible stand-up act, and his and the whole of the humour in The Muppets is epitomized in one knowingly silly gag; Walter is backstage at the show talking in awe to Kermit of how ‘extremely talented’ the muppets are, when right on cue Fozzie walks in unveiling his latest prop, ‘fart shoes’.
Despite their jokes about being washed up, The Muppets is instead, as its critical and commercial success over in the States has proven, a triumph. Director James Bobin and new writers Segal and Nicholas Stoller have answered any doubts with a glorious, hilarious, heart-warming film that ranks close to Toy Story 3 in terms of pure innocent fun. Despite a twelve year absence the muppets prove they can still put on a great show, and we can only hope that in future they’ll be more times to play the music, light the lights and once again meet the muppets.
The Muppets is on at York City Screen. For more information visit their website