A Very Critical Muppet Review

This is not a sweet little review where I say “I love the Muppets!  Everything old is new again! Muppets can do no wrong!”  I’ve read a lot of nostalgic reviews like that since early reviews started coming out, but I feel that a lot of those reviews slightly missed the mark.  The movie was good, but it could have been better.

I do love the Muppets.  I was born after The Muppet Show finished airing, but I grew up watching the movies, enjoyed the reruns of the show when they re-aired it on the Disney channel, and watched the Muppet Babies show.  My grandmother taped A Muppet Family Christmas when it originally aired on TV, and I watched it at her house even if it wasn’t appropriate for the time of year.

So of course I was ecstatic to hear that a new Muppet movie was being made, and made by a well-known Muppet fan.  I was also kind of nervous, though.  There have been many retreads of my childhood loves over the years, some better than others.

Well, I saw The Muppets last night and I had mixed feelings about it.  Understand that I’m probably more critical than most and it wasn’t BAD… it just could have been better.  The problems I identified with it are more problems in terms of consistency with the older Muppet films.  Henson was very specific about the choices he made in those orginial films, and I don’t know that he’d be happy to see some of those departures from the Muppet trends he set.  It was fine, but belongs more with Muppets from Space than with the original movies.

There are going to be spoilers in this post.  If you didn’t see the movie yesterday you probably aren’t a big enough Muppet fan to be devastated by me spoiling it for you.  If you don’t want me to spoil stuff for you, don’t read the rest of this post.

I loved the references to the old movies.

 They take a road trip… to France.
 Characters actually reference “Together Again” and even sing a couple of bars.  I got so excited and really wanted them to sing the whole thing.  But they didn’t.
   Gary and Walter ride a bicycle together.  Bikes are big in Muppet movies.

 A photo from “Somebody’s Getting Married” is integral to the plot.

There’s also a SUPER-adult song that Amy Adams and Miss Piggy sing (“Me Party”) that left the little boy in front of us asking his dad a lot of questions.  Which is awesome.  The Muppets should be for adults as well as kids.

In general, the songs were good.  The opening number was very Muppety (“Life’s a Happy Song”) and Kermit has a fantastic song (“Pictures in My Head”).  Those were probably my favorites.

Most of the celebrity cameos were good (see “negatives” for the couple I didn’t like).  Celebrity cameos are always fun, but even moreso when they’re unexpected.  My favorite unexpected cameo was…
 Awesome.  Carville is a giant Muppet.

1. My biggest problem with the movie was that there was far too much focus on the human characters.  In the Muppet canon (I’m referring to The Muppet Movie, Take Manhattan, and Caper here), humans exist solely to further the plot.  In the new movie, Gary and Mary are way, WAY too central to the plot.

 We don’t care if he proposes.  Less you, more Muppets.

Humans should be secondary characters whose lives are made better by having Muppets in them, not just Muppety humans who waste screen time with their human problems.  There were secondary Muppets who could have gotten more screen time if they’d spent less on the humans.

2. Subtitles for a Muppet movie are nonsense.  There are two unforgivable uses of subtitles in this movie.

Gonzo understands Camilla, but we don’t.  That’s funny.  But when you subtitle her, it’s not funny anymore.

 Chris Cooper does a short rap song, which he performs with excellent and understandable diction, yet they felt the need to subtitle it.  This actually made less sense than the Camilla subtitles.  Why subtitle something the audience can clearly understand?

3. The movie was just too aware of itself.  Muppet movies are supposed to be self aware, but it was just too much.  There are tropes in Muppet movies that are hilarious (“traveling by map”), but pointing them out and questioning all of them ruins them.  You have to really see it (preceded by all the other Muppet movies) to really understand what I’m talking about.  I’m all for a little postmodern self-reference, but they just went too far with it in comparison to the self-reference that’s par for the course in the original Muppet movies.

4. They kept making jokes about how little the American public cares about the Muppets, how unimportant they are in pop culture, etc.  At first my response was “Aha, that’s true, people have largely forgotten about the Muppets because they’ve been out of the spotlight for a while.”  But as the movie went on it seemed the running joke was “If we don’t make enough money on this movie, the Muppets will go away forever.  Because no one knows who we are.  Seriously.  No one.  Please come see this movie and save us.”

 This chick, whose name (Selena Gomez) I had to watch for in the credits to look up and find out how/why she is famous, shows up for a cameo and says that she only showed up because her agent told her to.    Which probably describes why she was in the movie.  Then Rico Rodriguez asked Kermit if he was a Ninja Turtle.

By this point, it almost felt like they were trying to convince the audience that they weren’t relevant.  Too much focus on the negative, like a slightly chubby girl who keeps commenting on how much weight she needs to lose in a desperate attempt to get someone to say “No, you look GREAT.”  You ARE relevant, Muppets.  Believe in yourselves.

Did I like it?  Of course.  It was a Muppet movie.  But I’d take any of the original Muppet movies (or Muppet Christmas Carol) over this one.  Times change.  I suppose a lot of the things I had problems with are part of trying to catch up with the times.  The little boy in front of us seemed to love it.  The (likely stoned, based on behavior) college students in the audience seemed to think it was the greatest thing ever.  Maybe I’m just becoming one of those “They don’t make ’em like they used to” sort of old people.

I hope today’s kids in general like it as much as the kids in our audience did.  I hope they love it.  I hope they love it like I love The Great Muppet Caper.  And I hope that when they’re nearing 30 they go see a Muppet movie and pick it apart because it wasn’t exactly like the ones from their childhood.

Because every kid should grow up with a love for the Muppets.  A fiercely loyal love like I have.

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