Rebranded versions of ‘70s and ‘80s film and television properties have become a bit of a trend over the last few years. Most of these remakes suffer from poor writing and direction, usually as a result of executive meddling that forces filmmakers to put a “modern” spin on old classics. It is this sort of production process that gives birth to travesties such as “The Smurfs,” “Yogi Bear” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”
“The Muppets,” on the other hand, serves as a perfect example of how to properly reintroduce an old franchise to a modern audience. Co-written by Jason Segel (TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”), who also stars in the film, “The Muppets” solves the problem of trying to bridge together old and new audiences by largely ignoring it, instead focusing on creating an authentic Muppet film that can appeal to any generation.
The film’s plot revolves around muppet Walter (voiced by Peter Linz of The Jim Henson Company) and his human brother Gary (Segel). Due to the obvious repercussions of being a muppet, Walter finds himself ostracized by most people. To cheer him up, Gary shows him episodes of “The Muppet Show,” acknowledging the physical similarities between Walter and the Muppets. Many years later, Walter is invited to join Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams, “The Fighter”), on their 10th anniversary trip to Los Angeles. When the trio visits The Muppet Theater, they are shocked to discover that the place has been closed and unkempt for many years. Along with what remains of the studio will be torn down by evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, “The Bourne Identity”) if the Muppets do not raise $10 million within a few days. Desperate to stop the oil magnate from seizing the property, the three embark on a quest to find Kermit the Frog, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Animal and the rest of the Muppets and reunite them to put on a show to raise the money. What follows is a series of fourth-wall jabs, elaborate musical numbers and cameo appearances by the likes of Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”), Jack Black (“School of Rock”) and Foo Fighters frontman (and former Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl.
The writing in the film is fantastic. It is clear that Segel himself is a Muppet fanatic, given the sheer attention to detail placed on references, sets and other minutiae from previous Muppet shows and movies. The film’s comedic timing is spot on, with plenty of hidden jokes and references directed toward older audiences. The humor is so perfect, in fact that it is very difficult to describe without ruining part of the experience. Put simply, numerous references to ‘80s and ‘90s culture are thrown about, and the film has no shame in admitting that the franchise is not nearly as popular as it once was.
The cast’s performances are as great as the writing. Segel’s and Adams’ performances as Gary and Mary compliment those of their Muppet co-stars by providing most of the modern humor, and Lintz’ role as Walter is done rather well. The film also sports a clever soundtrack, with certain ‘80s rock songs and modern covers of Muppet songs like “The Rainbow Connection,” as well as the various original songs written specifically for the film’s musical numbers.
In an age when most PG-rated films are mere “kid-friendly” affairs, it is refreshing to see a film that provides humor for all ages. Moviegoers need not be fans to appreciate “The Muppets,” as the film’s humor comes with no strings attached.