Time/place: 11:05am showing yesterday at Krikorian San Clemente
I’m glad I pre-planned to publish this review today, because I needed a day to collect my thoughts on it. Not that a Muppet movie garners long-pondering deep thoughts, but I don’t know if I’ve ever walked out of a theater feeling so conflicted about my own opinion before. Even as I write this, I really haven’t a clue as to what the grade at the end of this post will be. Since I am known to have conversations with myself, let’s see if I can convince myself one way or the other during this review.
Frank Oz, an invaluable part of Muppet history, mentioned his response to the script for The Muppets as a negative one. He chose not to be a part of it because he felt it didn’t respect the characters. He recanted on the weight of that comment with a laugh, saying that he didn’t want to be a crotchety old man who hurts the success of this movie, so I took his words into the theater with a grain of salt. Critic reviews mean nothing to me, but a casual statement by Henson’s #2 is something I’ll note. In some ways, I disagree with Oz, because the spirit of the Muppets was in this movie.
At a couple of points near the end, I got very teary, and it was an echo of the many genuinely emotional moments I’ve experienced with these characters over the years. Of course, I believe a big part of it was nostalgic – the return of an old song and a speech about failure in a cynical world. This movie is a love letter to these characters, in every way, and these moments certainly tapped into that personal appreciation from my own life. I really love these characters, and seeing them again like this really added a lot to my reaction. The Muppet spirit is about much more than the sweetness, though. These Muppets are insane… and I like that in my entertainers ;).
Humor, of course, plays a huge part in The Muppets, and the puppeteers who have taken over these lovable characters have the same kinda wit as the originators. Obviously, there’s a script, too, but the puppet performances and timing still carry much of the same charm they used to. I definitely chuckled out loud (COL?) a few times.
Final note for the good side? The music. Save for what’s mentioned below, the music in The Muppets was just splendid and a half :). My favorite song, “Life’s A Happy Song” has me smiling big, tapping my foot, and swaying to the beat in my chair. And that’s the thing with a Muppet movie… that’s more than acceptable ;).
This section literally hurts me to write. The movie is so uplifting in its message and so cheery, that it has some very strong negatives reminds me of a teacher I had at Saddleback College. He was a very nice man, but he and the subject were completely boring. It was something he loved, so I felt bad for him for how little I thought of the entire experience. It’s the same thing with The Muppets. I really, really don’t want to have these bad things to say about it… but I definitely do.
First, and mainly, performance. Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and Chris Cooper – our three human leads, three actors that I really do like, and three performers that did the most to take away from my enjoyment of this movie. The performances are cheesy, over the top, almost-mockingly saccharine (for Adams and Segel), and very unrealistic. A huge part of the Muppet charm is that they exist in our world. They deal with regular people… which these three were not. At first, I was thinking that maybe the director was to blame, since a poor director can let even the best actor give a shoddy performance, but others in the movie were more natural. In the opening of the movie, we’re in Smalltown, USA with Segel and Adams, and I thought maybe their corny portrayals were just because of that background… but Chris Cooper is from anywhere BUT Smalltown, USA – and he’s just as bad. I don’t doubt Jason Segel’s love for the Muppets, I really don’t, but at times these performances almost seemed to be done as a mockery. Yes, I thought they were THAT bad. I came home and watched clips from The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan, just to double-check my own gauge of how people should act in a Muppet movie (thinking, perhaps, I’d maybe grown a little cynical)… and I saw nothing even close to the over-the-top ham I saw in this movie. I read someone say that the corny acting was all part of the joke, but even if it WAS intended to be some silly satire, or something, it didn’t work for me. It actually kept taking me out of the moment, and though not every moment with these actors was bad, it was a really big detractor overall. Even the other singers and dancers were often big and showy… it all felt more like a sleek and far-too-shiny High School Musical environment.
I mentioned music as a positive, above, but here I’ll mention the negative. There is a rap song in this movie that felt so awkward and out-of-place (like an old joke from the 90’s that should be beneath the Muppets), I cringed. Some of the young moms in the theater with me were laughing, and I’m fully aware that my opinion on things isn’t always the norm, but I thought it was really darn bad. There was another song that wasn’t really great, but it wasn’t extremely detrimental. There was one more song, though, that I thought didn’t belong. It’s “sung” by chickens, and I get the play on words… but the play on words is with a song and title that most wouldn’t consider PG, family-fare. I’m no prude, but it really felt like something that belongs in a more “hip” and crass movie for modern kids, like a Shrek or something. Heck, a trailer for the stupid-looking new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie featured their rendition of a Lady Gaga song played before The Muppets started… and to see the same kinda lame gags in this movie felt strange. I wasn’t offended, or anything so silly, it just made me tilt my head and wonder why.
If I sit here and listen to “Life’s A Happy Song”, I get a happy feeling about The Muppets. If I sit here and remember other parts of the movie, that feeling deflates. I think, in a lot of ways, it felt like Muppets, Jr. – like a second generation taking over the business, but doing things their own way, and (at times) in an effort to connect with these kids today… but not knowing quite how. It also kinda felt like a fan movie… a well-done one, but still a fan movie. I’m not a huge Muppet connoisseur, I haven’t seen every movie (the newer ones, at least), but it all just felt a little off. I think some poor choices and weird performances took away from it, sure, but there was something else I still don’t know if I can place. When it had me, I was a teary-eyed, smilin’ fool… but when it lost me, it felt completely outside of the Muppet universe. I think Frank Oz said what he said based on things that I may not see as an issue, yet, in what he said – I think he was kinda right.
The Muppets was sweet, had good things to say, and there were some great songs and laughs… but what took away from the movie, for me, was heavy enough that I didn’t walk out of the theater with a big skip in my step and an unstoppable smile. I walked out just as I had walked in, humming the tunes of “Rainbow Connection” and “Saying Goodbye” from the first Muppet movies. I think that says something.
Grade: C (I’ve sat, facing this blinking cursor for too long.. and I still may never be satisfied with the grade I gave)