Because I was on vacation, there will be no podcast this week.
I don’t have any strong feelings of nostalgia for the Muppets. Like most kids, I watched “Sesame Street,” occasionally caught “The Muppet Show,” and I even remember seeing that “Muppet Babies” thing every now and then (I may or may not remember the lyrics to the theme song, don’t ask me why).
Perhaps the only memory relating to the Muppets that I treasure was going to see “A Muppet Christmas Carol” in the theater with my Dad, as the Charles Dickens tale they were riffing on was my favorite story growing up.
Despite these memories, I wasn’t in any hurry to see Jason Segel’s 2011 Muppet revival in the theater. Fans were going crazy for it, but I hadn’t given Jim Henson’s memorable creations much thought in well over a decade. Nothing about it interested me. It seemed like other people’s nostalgia.
Then I saw the movie, and by the time I got 15 minutes in, I felt like I loved the Muppets again.
“The Muppets” is one of those rare experiences at the movies that fills you with joy. We all love films that reflect the dark side of life, but those attitudes have completely overwhelmed what we see at the theater. It’s rare we leave a move uplifted and feeling good about life. “The Muppets” is a movie with enough happiness in its spirit to make up for the entire happy-deficit in cinema of the past decade.
The plot is a gettin’-the-band-back-together yarn, as a massive Muppet fan named Walter heads out to L.A. to visit the Muppet Theater with his brother Gary (Jason Segel), as well as Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams). When they arrive, they uncover a sinister plot to knock down the historic theater by a cabal of big bad businessman cartoons, led by oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, who plays it with appropriate levels of ham). Walter then spearheads an effort to get the Muppets back together to put on one last show in an effort to raise enough money to save the theater. Show tunes and puppetry ensue.
Directed by “Flight of the Conchords” vet James Bobin and featuring tunes by “Conchord” Bret Mackenzie (whose voice as a songwriter is readily apparent in every tune), “The Muppets” has the razor sharp sense of humor that one would find in that show, but thankfully without adopting its hipster tendencies. The script by Segel and Nicholas Stoller hits all the right emotional beats in a simple way that also manages to be artful and effectively moving. Like the other movies, it’s jam packed with cameos, though they’re not really the A-list faces you’d see in the past.
The Blu-ray is full of goodness, from expanded songs (the Tex Richman rap was a scream), a making-of, and a commentary with Segel, Stoller, and Bobin. If you get the, uh, “Wocka-Wocka” edition (read that in a Fozzie Bear voice), it even comes with a free download of the soundtrack, which you’ll definitely want after seeing this.
“The Muppets” was one of my favorites of 2011, it hit me like a faceful of cool water in the desert, refreshing and restoring me with positive energy I’ve been without in contemporary movies for so long I’d forgotten what it felt like. It’s absolute perfection in the realm of family entertainment, and really, very little trumps a perfect family film.
Other Noteworthy Releases
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: David Fincher seems most at home when dealing with pulpy material, and his version of Steig Larrsson’s popular novel is impeccably directed and edited in the perfectionist manner we’ve come to expect.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Tomas Alfredson’s “Let The Right One In” was my favorite film of 2008, and his adaptation of Jean le Carré’s celebrated spy novel was one of the best of 2011. Sporting a cast of British heavyweights, with a brilliant central performance by Gary Oldman, Alfredson delivers top-notch spycraft. The idea of him filming the entire Karla Trilogy excites me.
Hop: A CGI Easter bunny with the voice of who is currently the world’s most annoying man (Russell Brand) coming out of it. I’d rather eat glass.
Battle Royale: This film was my gateway drug into foreign films and exploitation cinema, it’s funny how it’s just now getting its first Region 1 release during the height of “Hunger Games” fever.
Carnage: Polanski’s latest is stagey and contrived, but extremely funny and well-acted. It’s a shame he’s such a dick.
The Sitter: What happened to David Gordon Green? The man used to make amazing films like “All The Real Girls,” now he does the worst kind of Apatow-tainted trash. I guess the dude decided it was time to get paid while taking a nap.
Iron Maiden – En Vivo: I saw Iron Maiden a couple of years ago in Chicago, and despite their age, they still rock harder than anyone out there. Bruce Dickinson is an absolute madman, not only performing his soaring lead vocals whilst leaping around the stage, but also personally flying the tour jet on their epic world tours. That’s work ethic. They’re like Spinal Tap, if Spinal Tap was ridiculously talented.
Letter Never Sent: A 1959 Soviet film by Mikhail Kalatozov about a diamond expedition into Siberia.
The War Room: Regardless of your political leanings, Criterion’s release of “The War Room,” which chronicles James Carville and George Stephanopoulos on the Clinton campaign trail, has something to offer for political junkies of all stripes.
A Lonely Place to Die: Check out Christian Toto’s coverage of this film, which has gotten some good buzz.
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench