Muppets: The comeback franchise of the year

Beth Clothier

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Although it didn’t quite exceed the ticket sales for “Breaking Dawn” thanks to the hordes of rabid “Twihards,” the comeback of the year award has to go to “The Muppets.” Best of all, the script acknowledges the fact that the film is just what it is.

Having been out of the spotlight for several years thanks to horrible made-for-TV movies and their least successful feature, “Muppets in Space,” it’s true what Rashida Jones’ character says in the film: The Muppets aren’t famous anymore. A generation of kids has grown up without the backdrop of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s eternal love story; without exposure to Fozzie’s mediocre, and rather childish jokes; and minus the magic of The Great Gonzo’s cannonball flights. Their only exposure to these fuzzy, heartwarming characters is through “Sesame Street,” which really is a world unto itself. Fortunately, thanks to the love actor and screenwriter Jason Segel has for The Muppets, this is a situation that can be remedied.

From the very beginning, “The Muppets” is just what you might expect. There is a lot of wide-eyed happiness and chirpiness, but without the over-sweetened schmaltz you find in other films produced by Disney. Fortunately, Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, as well as songwriter Bret McKenzie, add in enough tongue-in-cheek humor to both offset the sweetness as well as make the film accessible to adults, whether they are longtime Muppet fans or not.

Following a “get the band back together” scenario in order to save the decrepit and abandoned Muppet Theater from the evil machinations of oil baron Tex Richman, played in the film by Chris Cooper, the movie flies along without a single dull moment. And all along the way, there are shout-outs to longtime Muppet fans, such as a recreation of the scene in “The Muppet Movie,” where Sweetums chases Kermit, Fozzie and the gang after they leave “Mad Man Mooney’s Hubcap Heaven,” and a wry remark from Kermit when asked how they are going to get the gang back together: “Didn’t you see our first movie? We drive.” The gang also sings their trademark song “The Rainbow Connection,” a moment when you truly feel as if they have come home.

Hardcore Muppet fans might notice slight changes in certain characters’ voices, as some of the original voice actors chose not to be involved with the new project, but it’s not enough of a distraction to detract from the overall feeling of the film itself. In the end, “The Muppets” is like a great big hug, a love song from Jason Segel to creator Jim Henson, the Muppets and to everyone who has ever loved them. Hopefully, it’s a sign of more things to come.

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