The Muppets review

by Helene Wong / 05 January, 2012
But the old tune feels a little stale in <em>The Muppets.</em>
It’s not over till it’s over, and for Muppet fan Jason Segel it clearly isn’t. This latest movie reputedly came about because Segel – one of the actors in Judd Apatow’s geeky/gawky comedy stable – persuaded Disney to go to the well again, and to let him co-write and star. Maybe they thought if a thirtysomething like him could still get excited by the prospect it was worth a go. Maybe it would even revive the franchise.

Segel, however, has not been bold. It’s back to basics: the title plain, the story the tried-and-true “let’s round up the gang and put on a show”. One twist, though: the character kicking things off isn’t a Muppet, but a puppet, Walter.

Like his brother, Gary (Segel), Walter is a big Muppet fan. When Gary takes girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to LA for their 10th anniversary, Walter goes, too, so they can all visit the Muppet Studio. Sadly, it’s derelict. Walter discovers dastardly Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to buy the property for the oil underneath, so he insists they track down Kermit, who duly rounds up the gang and organises a tele­thon to buy the studio back.

The laughs are intermittent, and not big. Some self-referential humour, and film-referential nods in the casting – Jack Black bound Gulliver-style; Emily Blunt’s snooty receptionist at Vogue Paris (Miss Piggy is its plus-size editor) – plus the odd cameo chuckle, but it’s pretty much irony-free, pitched at young rather than old. Although there are coming-of-age ­plotlines for Walter and Gary that could float over the kids’ heads.

The singing and dancing are cheery if modest and unexceptional, although Life’s a Happy Song by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie is instantly hummable. There are stabs of nostalgia when the gang pile onstage into their old colonnade set and launch into “It’s time to play the music …”, and The Rainbow Connection can still tug a few strings. Yet the whole feels a touch lacklustre. It could be the predictable storyline, or the humour falling between two stools, or the fact the Muppets’ personalities remain the same.

Maybe the new generation, seeing it with fresh eyes, will still fall in love with them. For the rest of us, yes, it’s not over till it’s over, but sometimes you just can’t go back.

THE MUPPETS, directed by James Bobin.

Visit www.listener.co.nz for brief reviews of other films in Now Showing, plus David Larsen’s film blog, Romeo Must Not Live.
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