Film Review: The Muppets

Sweet musical comedy for Muppet fans and toddlers susceptible to the franchise is as relentlessly juvenile as it is eager to please.

The world-famous puppets, deep in retirement after years as film and TV stars, make a delightful return in The Muppets, thanks to some human friends and a highly serviceable and appropriate “Let’s Put on a Show” theme that has proven its show-biz chops over so many decades. For added good (genre) measure, this welcome return of the Muppets is also a kind of road picture.

Screenwriter Jason Segel, who also stars, and Nicholas Stoller fashioned the nifty script that aggregates the veteran Muppets and creates newbie Walter, the Segel character’s puppet brother who, as a Muppet super-fan, gets the whole story rolling.

Deep in the Smalltown USA heartland, Gary (Segel) is planning a trip to Los Angeles with Mary (Amy Adams), an elementary-school shop teacher who has been his girlfriend for ten years. The journey is to celebrate that anniversary, but what’s on Mary’s mind is that Gary may finally propose. Gary’s beloved but insecure brother Walter insists on joining them, as he’s determined to visit the old, crumbling Muppet Studios.

Arrived in L.A. and at the studio, Walter overhears oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) discuss his nefarious plan to raze the facility and drill for the recently discovered oil beneath. The solution to such catastrophe, Walter realizes, is to find Kermit the Frog and help him reunite the Muppets for a telethon that will enable them to raise $10 million needed to save the theatre. Cue mission and ticking clock.

Walter demands immediate action, and loyal bro Gary and Mary come on board. The three tool around L.A. and beyond to find the now-retired Muppets and arouse them to action.

As the genre demands, the round-up is incremental and suspenseful. The trio first locate Kermit the Frog, the level-headed, inspirational Muppet leader, at his estate. Together, they track down Fozzie Bear, who’s a lounge performer with the tacky Moopets cover band at a seedy, leaky Reno casino. They unearth rock ’n’ roll survivor Animal at a Santa Barbara retreat for anger management, where therapist Jack Black (as himself) has yet to manage his anger.

Muppet Gonzo has become a plumbing magnate with a fleet of gorgeous toilets to prove his stature. And fulsome diva Miss Piggy has relocated to Paris, where she has become the plus-size fashion editor of Paris Vogue. But getting to Miss Piggy proves difficult. Emily Blunt (the Emily Blunt, reincarnated from her Devil Wears Prada role) is quite protective as Miss Piggy’s receptionist. But the one-way chemistry between Miss Piggy and Kermit is still aflutter.

Back in L.A. with all the Muppets primed for action, Walter, Kermit and the gang still have to pitch the telethon. They go head to stubborn head with Veronica (Rashida Jones), a tough-as-Gorilla-Glue exec who won’t budge until a hole in her schedule opens. But she needs a big-name star as M.C. Uh oh.

The show does go on, but can the gang find that all-important M.C. and raise the dough before midnight? Will Walter triumph as a last-minute performer? Will Gary propose to Mary? No spoilers to share here, but except for those who have been asleep for six decades, all’s well that ends expectedly.

The special effects provide much eye candy, especially as the puppets work seamlessly within the candy-colored live action and glorified Smalltown and Hollywood backdrops. On the human side, charm and sweetness in buckets come by way of Segel and Adams. Cooper is the embodiment of that variety of unabashed evil and bluster that kid-friendly screen villains require, and Jones satirically embraces that movie-studio brand of blunt bitchiness and bottom-line thinking rumored to infect Hollywood’s corridors of power.

Original songs by “Flight of the Conchords” star Bret McKenzie and choreography by Michael Rooney contribute solidly to the story, the emotions lurking beneath, and the joyful production numbers. Also abetting these tonal up-beats are soundtrack bursts of such vintage pop smashes as the Muppets’ own “Rainbow Connection” and Starship’s “We Built This City.”

A host of cameos enlivens things, including pop-ups from Neil Patrick Harris, Alan Arkin, James Carville, Ken Jeong and Judd Hirsch. As the Muppets might have sung, “There’s fun galore and who needs more?”