The Muppets

“I’ve got a dream, too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.”

That’s something Kermit the Frog says in The Muppet Movie when he’s facing down Doc Hopper, who’s been pursuing him throughout the movie. And that’s the essence of the Muppets, the part of the Muppets to which I respond most strongly. And so I’m pleased to report that writers Jason Segel and Nick Stoller and director James Bobin got it right with their Muppets reboot, The Muppets. (Bret McKenzie, from Flight of the Conchords, provides an assist as music supervisor.)

As Segel had been saying in interviews leading up to the movie’s premiere, the inspiring aspect of the Muppets is that they’re not cynical and they remind us of the best versions of ourselves. That theme is wonderfully apparent in his movie. We see it in most of the characters, Muppet and otherwise. And it makes the movie work as a Muppet movie; as a wonderful tribute to what came before; and as a great, funny and touching movie.

The plot is simple and has roots in Muppet movies and shows past. Walter (a new Muppet voiced by Peter Linz) is the Muppets’ biggest fan. When his brother Gary (Segel) and Gary’s long-time girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), take a trip to Los Angeles, Walter tags along and the three set out to take the Muppet Studios tour. Walter is disheartened to see it in disarray, and after hearing oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) reveal that he plans to raze the studio, Walter sets out to find Kermit, rally the troops and save the studio.

(Can I just take a minute and tell you how much I love these names? Gary and Mary? A wealthy oil tycoon named Tex Richman? I love it!)

Like past Muppet productions, everyone in the movie is self-aware and addresses the camera. It’s all very meta. Which is great. Those asides are catnip to Muppet-philes like me, and they’re at least mildly entertaining to adults. Yes, there are some juvenile moments aimed at kids, but in the great Muppet tradition, there’s plenty that goes over the kids’ heads and is just for grownups. (Did you know that the original The Muppet Show pilot was titled The Muppets: Sex and Violence? Jim Henson did not want to be mistaken for a children’s show.)

In this fun and sentimental romp, there are great cameos from every generation. Mickey Rooney pops up in the beginning, followed not long after by Dave Grohl, in a cameo he was born to make. James Carville, Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez and Neil Patrick Harris, among many others, also lend a hand, and Rashida Jones and Jack Black appear as featured players.

The Muppets is funny, bawdy, sweet, sentimental, heart-warming and all together lovable. Whether you’re a diehard Muppet fan (like me), a casual observer or you’ve never watched a Muppet movie or TV show (for shame), there is something for you to enjoy in this wonderfully optimistic tale. The whole Muppet gang is back together, “movin’ right along in search of good times and good news, with good friends” who can’t lose. I hope this becomes a habit.

For more Muppet fun, read my favorite book: It’s Not Easy Being Green and Other things to Consider, by Jim Henson, The Muppets and Friends, and edited by Cheryl Henson (Jim’s daughter and president of the Jim Henson Foundation. And watch The Muppet Movie. It’s the real story (or something like it) of how the Muppets got together (and my favorite movie, Muppet or otherwise!)

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