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HUB Movie Preview: The Muppets

If you want to do something much more awesome than destroy Penn State’s reputation this weekend, seeing this week’s HUB movie is a great alternative. I saw the movie several times in theaters, and though the Muppet fan in me has a few issues, bear with me–even a lesser Muppet Movie is still a great movie.

If there was one movie that I was excited for this year, it was The Muppets.  I grew up on Sesame Street, slowly discovering the incredible world Jim Henson had created. My dad told me about watching Henson perform on the steps of the library at the University of Maryland, and though I knew I would never get that opportunity, I searched for as much Muppety goodness as I could find- the original movies, The Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, the show itself on DVD, and countless clips on YouTube. Even when a Muppets production wasn’t great, like The Wizard of Oz, I still liked it. So when I learned that there was going to be a new Muppet movie, with songs from Flight of the Conchords’ Bret MacKenzie, I was amazed and thankful that a new movie was going to come out in my lifetime.

My major issue with The Muppets is its central conceit: That the Muppets are has-beens, neglected by the world since their first movies.  In The Muppet Movie, a group of lovable weirdos came together to put on a show. Now, in this movie, those weirdos are fighting against a world that doesn’t need them. But who’s saying that we don’t need them? Every time someone said that “Nobody would like the Muppets” or, “You’re over, you’re done,” I cringed. I’ve been there the whole time, and I care! There’s a strange fascination with the 80s, like Kermit’s robot assistant who spouts corny catchphrases and serves New Coke. I know that’s when Segel grew up with the Muppets, but they never went away!

In the past, the Muppets always faced adversity with strong hearts, and even though there were tough times, they always came through. It’s crushing to see Kermit acting sad for much of the movie. Because of that “darkness,” this movie fits in more with the more recent Pixar titles like Toy Story 3 or Judd Apatow-produced comedies like Get Him to The Greek (from co-writer Nicholas Stoller). The Muppets Take Manhattan had some sad scenes dealing with the group breaking up, but the disheartening aspects of The Muppets were more about dealing with pain (that was invented for this movie) left unsolved in the past.

There’s a great scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan where Kermit shouts from the top of the Empire State Building that he’s going to get the show made, whatever it takes. What happened to that frog?

Besides my issues with the script, I blame Disney for what didn’t go right. It was pretty hard to ignore that HUGE Cars 2 ad that showed up TWICE. Something about the Muppets themselves felt tempered, like they were afraid to show much violence or edginess. It’s not exactly Animal if he’s not running around chasing women! I really missed the sense of sheer chaos that “The Muppet Show” especially reveled in.  I don’t want Selena Gomez as a cameo; when you look back at The Muppet Movie, they had Steve Martin and Orson Welles, real legends, not some tween pop star. It’s not all on Disney though–the Winnie the Pooh movie that came out earlier this year was incredibly good and showed that they can respect a property. This movie needed to cut loose instead of cut back.

Added to the mix are Jason Segel, Amy Adams, and new Muppet Walter.  Segel tries hard, but both him and Adams play 2-dimensional characters.  I thank him for having a hand in this movie’s development, but I don’t think Segel did that good of a job, and Adams doesn’t have very many opportunities to show her range. I did like Walter, a huge Muppet fan himself, as a new addition to the cast. Chris Cooper did a great job playing oil baron Tex Richman, but he too had very little screen time or background.

Music has always been a huge part of The Muppets, and Bret McKenzie definitely followed through. “Life’s a Happy Song” will get stuck in your head for days, and it’s been rightfully nominated for Best Original Song in this year’s Oscars. “Pictures in My Head,” “Man or Muppet,” and some of the classics were great. I can’t say the same for “Me Party,” which didn’t fit in at all, or Tex Richman’s rap, which even Flight of the Conchords’ signature rhymes couldn’t save.

On the whole, though, there was enough Muppet spirit to make me happy.  The funnier parts were really funny, and a lot of the sight gags had that classic slapstick feel. I loved the references to the original The Muppet Movie or past Muppet history, some of which probably flew past much of the audience. I don’t want to give anything away, but when the movie is aiming to make you laugh, it’s at its best. I just miss the over-the-top optimism and chaos, and I don’t want another plot with an easy message that “anyone can be special, no matter who you are” like most of pop culture today.

Walking out of the theater, an older man started singing (not humming, singing) “Mah-na Mah-na.” His wife started humming along. So maybe that makes much of my criticisms moot. If people were made happier by this movie, I’m glad. It was much better than any comedies I’ve seen lately, and though the Muppet fan in me might be a bit disappointed, I’ll be looking forward to any sequels. Or, hopefully, a new Muppet Show.

Here are the times for this weekend’s showings:

  • Thursday, Feb. 23: 10:00 PM
  • Friday, Feb. 24: 7:00 PM, 9:30 PM & 12:00 AM
  • Saturday, Feb. 25: 7:00 PM, 9:30 PM & 12:00 AM
  • Sunday, Feb. 26: 7:00 PM, 9:30 PM

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About the Author

Alex Federman

Alex is a Senior at Penn State who enjoys watching movies and television shows (probably a bit too much). He's a Film/Video major, with a Spanish minor.

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