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The Muppets Disappoints

The Muppets, the seventh film bringing Jim Henson’s The Muppets to the silver screen, is receiving tremendous critical and popular acclaim. It currently holds a 97% rating, “Certified Fresh,” on Rotten Tomatoes, gets 4.5 stars out of 5 from the viewing public, and even claimed a very glowing review here on this very blog.

I’m afraid it falls to me to be a dissenting voice. *Warning Spoilers*

We’ve seen this movie before. It’s essentially The Muppet Movie all over again. Another film it shares tremendous similarity with is The Country Bears. Any commonality with Bears is not a good thing as far as the box office goes. Someone pick up the phone and let Disney Studios know that ‘We’re getting the band back together’ has been done… a lot. I’m tired of this silly old plot and it would have been nice to see something else instead.

The songs just did not have that old Muppets magic. That’s not to say they weren’t good songs. “Life’s a Happy Song” and “Man or Muppet” were great songs. But they weren’t about “The Muppets.” They were part of the human love interest ‘B’ story, which drove too much of the movie, a movie about muppets, not humans.

The only song that really captured the old Muppets magic was “The Rainbow Connection”, itself a classic song and the emotional high point of the movie. It was like seeing an old friend again, which is what the rest of the movie should have felt like, but didn’t.

Part of the reason it wasn’t a family reunion was because most of the family wasn’t invited. There just were not enough Muppets in the film. During the credits, the list of Muppets and puppeteers scrolled by the screen so quickly that you’d miss it if you took a sip of soda. That was sad. This is a movie about Muppets it should have been filled to the brim with Muppets. It is as if the producers thought “Hey let’s throw a few nostalgic winks in there and it will make them happy.” But to me it was the sound of those holding the purse strings saying we can’t afford to pay those puppeteers. The budget for the film is said to be around $40 million. They must have put that into the sets and the big production numbers, because they didn’t put it into actual Muppets.

I watched the first half of the film waiting for the funny light-hearted moments that make me love the Muppets. Instead, almost every scene fell flat. The road montage was good because I didn’t have to sit through more tepid humor. The script was too adult, often depressing in tone, and never really picked up momentum. The pace increased a bit when they finally reached Muppet Theater (great synergy having the El Capitan sit in for the Muppet Theater) and they began to capture some of that old glory.

I never really felt the any tension in the film. Kermit and Miss Piggy ( and Gonzo!) were successful, they didn’t need to get back together. The rest of the plot was so flimsy that a bump on the villains head eliminated it. Yes, they did wink knowingly at the audience a few times indicating that even they knew the plot was weak. But a few moments of humor, does not make a good movie. They really needed to develop some better conflict. The only thing going for this movie was the fact that I wanted to see the Muppets succeed and even that fell flat in terms of conflict, there never really was a chance of the Muppets succeeding with a telethon.

For me, The Muppets, never really left. They’ve been around in the theme parks, on YouTube, on DVDs and VHS tapes, in guest appearances on the Disney Channel. They tried a quick revival with some Disney Channel mini-shows, but that was more about the Disney Channel star than the Muppets. I think they would have been better just bringing back the old Muppet Show variety style. Audiences would have been just as excited at that as a new movie.

As the credits rolled, the question formed in my mind, is this enough to revive The Muppets as a franchise? As we established above, this was a financially affordable film. Unless word of mouth does it in, The Muppets will likely make everything back over the 1st week of its run. So that’s a good sign. I think this film could be enough, but I remain cautious.

Things I would have liked to have seen:

  • The rest of the Muppet Studio. Surely there were some funny bits they could have filmed with the Muppets returning to their old haunts. Dr. Benson Honeydew and Beaker in the lab, Gonzo’s bag of tricks, etc.
  • The moment when Walter realizes he’s a Muppet, adopted, etc… Where it all falls into place.
  • Mary and Gary actually sharing a romantic moment that wasn’t couched in their isolated world.
  • Much better and many more celebrity cameos. The telethon could have been filled with great moments of celebrities coming out of the woodwork of Hollywood to support the Muppets. Instead we got a few fleeting seconds with a real motley crew. Whoopi and Neal Patrick Harris were great, but where were the rest? And come on, James Carville? Not a celebrity.

So how does this movie rank in terms of the other Muppet movies? Here’s my list:

1. The Muppet Movie (1979)
2. The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
3. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
4. Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
5. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
6. Muppets from Space (1999)
7. The Muppets (2011)

I could go on, but I’m going to stop. I don’t want to shovel dirt on The Muppets franchise. I really want it to succeed and for the Muppets to return to their position of pop-icons. I will say that my 8 year old son squirmed a lot through the first half of the film, but claims he really enjoyed it. Others watching the film in our theater actually applauded at the end. So it might be that I’m in the minority.

If you loved The Muppets or feel it fell short, please tell us why in the comments.