Unlike my pal, the comedian Larry Noto (the foremost Muppetologist on the East Coast), I was never a big Muppets girl. I mean, in the show’s heyday (the late 70s), it was completely unavoidable, so I’m sure I watched a few episodes. And I probably absorbed a lot about the show through sheer osmosis.
I mention this at the top of my review because The Muppets— Jason Segal’s cinematic bouquet to all things Muppet—turned me into a puddle of goo. When the lights dimmed and a voice announced, “It’s Time to Meet the Muppets,” I got a chill. When the fabulous Miss Piggy and Kermit, with his wonderfully crumpled and expressive face, sang “The Rainbow Connection” I almost wept. Imagine if I’d actually loved the show: They would’ve had to scoop me out of the theater with a shovel.
The two-tiered premise is brilliant: Walter (the voice of Peter Linz) is a Muppet who has been raised as a boy. He is inseparable from his doting big brother Gary (Segal). (Segal’s giantness is used to great effect here: While Gary is outgrowing the door-sill growth chart, Walter is permanently stuck at 2 feet tall.) But one day, Walter sees The Muppet Show on TV and it changes his life—he’s totally hooked. (He even gets a Kermit the Frog watch).
Segal is so dopey and loveable that he actually feels part Muppet himself. Certainly, his girlfriend Mary (chipper Amy Adams, perfectly cast) wants him to man up and accept the responsibilities of adulthood.
The two brothers coming to grips with their true identities leads to the film’s most winning (and hilarious) song: “Man or Muppet?” Sample lyric: “Am I a man or am I a Muppet? If I’m a Muppet then I’m a very manly Muppet; if I’m a man that makes me a Muppet of a man.”
Meanwhile, on a trip to Hollywood, Gary, Walter, and Mary unearth a plot by the evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, having a hoot) to drill for oil under the Muppets’ old studio, which has fallen into disrepair. So it’s up to Kermit and his new pals to reassemble the old gang (including Gonzo, Fozzy Bear, and Miss Piggy, who is now the Cochon Editor for Paris Vogue) and try to put on one last show to save the studio.
The Muppets is filled with fun cameos (Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, the almost inevitable Neil Patrick Harris), winning original songs, and clever, meta jokes about the old series and movies. But what it does best is tap into the same sweet nostalgia for lost youth that the brilliant Toy Story series does.
How could we have ever abandoned the Muppets, Segal seems to ask? (Not you, Larry.) But the film proves once and for all that while the Muppets may be gone from primetime TV, their hold on our collective consciousness will last forever.