November 28, 2011

MOVIES: The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011)

The Muppets asks a simple question: -- Are simple things like song and laughter still relevant in our cold, cynical age? -- and answers it with a resounding "Hell, yes!"

As we open, Gary and Mary (Jason Segel and Amy Adams) are on their way to Los Angeles to celebrate their tenth anniversary of dating; they're accompanied by Gary's brother Walter (a puppet), a lifelong Muppet fan who can't wait to visit the Muppet Studios. Alas, the studios have fallen on hard times, and are about to be torn down by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) unless Walter can convince the Muppets to re-unite for a fund-raising telethon to save the place.

The movie does drag a bit in the middle, and there are one or two subplots too many; as much as I love her, I think Amy Adams' character could have been written out entirely without losing much. But the musical numbers are delightful (well, mostly; I'm not sure that Cooper's rap number was a good idea); the "getting the band back together" sequence is great fun; and the movie's final act, in which the Muppets take the stage to do what they do best, had me grinning from ear to ear.

As in every Muppet movie, there are a variety of celebrity cameos, spanning the generations from Rico Rodriguez to Mickey Rooney; Jim Parsons' beautifully conceived appearance gets one of the movie's biggest laughs. But the heart of the movie is, of course, the Muppets themselves, and those marvelous characters have such warmth and charm that you can't help but smile when they're on screen.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the absence of the voices of Frank Oz and the late Jim Henson (Eric Jacobson's Fozzie is particularly problematic), but when Kermit breaks into "The Rainbow Connection," or when Camilla and her fellow chickens take the stage for their big number, those concerns melt away.

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