I am too old to have been a children's fan of The Muppets in their most popular period from the mid-70s until the early 80s. And I don't think I've ever seen one of their films – until now. But it would take a harder heart than mine not to warm to the sense of familiarity and old fashioned sweetness that makes this film a safe bet for pretty much any children.
The time is the present – ostensibly – but Gary and Mary (Jason Segel and Amy Adams) live in a kind of timeless and imaginary small town America. They've been engaged for 10 years and there is no sign that that's going to change soon. One of the difficulties is that Gary has a 'brother' called Walter, who is to all intents and purposes a Muppet living with humans. But when the three of them set off to California to do The Muppet studio tour, their problems are only just beginning although of course, they will eventually end).
Because when they get there. they discover that not only is the studio almost falling down (The Muppets themselves are long since dispersed), but that a certain Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), oil baron and arch villain is buying the site to tear it down and drill for oil. (This has – hilariously – caused a Republican loony to complain that Hollywood is anti-Big Business and therefore Socialist). Gary and Mary and Walter therefore have to find all The Muppets, get them back together and raise $10 million to save the studio. And this can only be done by putting on a show Right Here.
As formats go, it's as old as the Himalayas, and none the worse for that. Formulas are worn thin because they provide a sustainable structure on which to hang an entertainment like this. And its very familiarity and the way it is parodied is part of the fun. So, when they have a long way to go in a hurry, they take the map route; which means that we see a map with a line going from one spot to another and bingo they're there. Or if there is a boring bit of stuff to get through quickly, they do a montage – i.e. skip through events in a few seconds. If we were being portentously academic, we might say that it is post-modernist and self-referential, but fortunately, we're not.
So we have our intrepid trio tracking down Kermit in his mansion and persuading him to come out of hibernation. Ditto Miss Piggy (running Vogue in Paris) and Fozzie Bear (fronting a bad tribute band in Reno). That's really all the plot there is, and all that is needed, because the great thing about The Muppets is not only the sense that they are part of our cultural psyche, but also that they are real people. Their individual characteristics are so well defined, even to an agnostic like me, that they don't need to do anything more than be on screen for us to know what they're thinking and feeling.
There are too many songs (even one song is too many), and of mixed quality, but the film is short and sweet (and we get a bonus Toy Story short to pad things out). Segel and Adams are sweet and innocent, and there is really nothing here which will not add to the general wellbeing of anyone who wants an old fashioned entertainment.
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