The Muppet Show was my favourite TV programme when I was growing up, but this film, the first in over a decade? Not so much, even though it is fun in parts. I liked it terrifically at the beginning, and loved seeing Kermit again, and Miss Piggy, with her ‘pork chop’ (‘Hi-yah!’) and Gonzo and Fozzie Bear and Animal, because they are all such distinct personalities, and have such presence, and when I heard the theme tune for the first time in years — ‘It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to meet the Muppets on The Muppet Show tonight...’ — I felt I might actually burst with happiness, although luckily I didn’t. (Last time I burst with happiness, it was hell to get out of the carpets, and even splashed the curtains.)
But, in trying to appeal to my generation and today’s kiddywinks who are new to it all, it ultimately falls between the two stools before opting to veer towards the latter, after which it becomes the cloyingly predictable film it had set out to undercut. I’m just saying I was a little disappointed, that’s all, and that it’s a bit of a shame, although, with hindsight, it’s good I didn’t burst with happiness. (You can Febreze like a mad thing, but the smell will still linger for ages.)
This Muppets was devised and co-written by Jason Segel, a comedian of the Apatow school who starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and lobbied Disney (which bought the franchise from the Jim Henson Company in 2004) for this revival, a comeback movie about a comeback. Segel, who, from some angles, looks rather like Piers Morgan (I thought I should warn you of this, in case you are of a nervous disposition, or are planning to eat afterwards), stars as Gary, a sort of man-child from SmallTown, USA, who has a girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), and a brother, Walter. Walter is a Muppet. Why Walter is a Muppet and Gary is not is never explained, perhaps because it would break one of the most important Muppet rules: humans must never identify Muppets as Muppets and Muppets must never self-identify as Muppets. This is crucial.
Anyway, the trio are galvanised when, on a trip to the now-abandoned Muppet Theatre in LA, they discover that Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), a Texan rich man, has plans to raze it to the ground and drill for oil underneath. To save the place, Gary and Mary and Walter decide to round up all the displaced, has-been Muppets and put on a show to raise the $10 million necessary to buy it.
So, where are they now? Well, Kermit lives behind big gates in a Bel Air mansion, Miss Piggy is fashion editor of French Vogue (for plus sizes), Fozzie Bear is still doing stand-up, albeit with a rather sinister tribute get-up called The Moopets, while Gonzo is a plumbing magnate and Animal is undergoing anger-management therapy. In a climate in which Punch Teacher is the top-rated children’s show, they do not have much success selling their reunion idea. ‘In this market, you guys are not relevant,’ says one snippy TV executive. But then, suddenly, a network urgently needs to fill a slot, and the gang has just two days to pull it all off. I’m not saying that at this stage it all becomes narratively familiar, but blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah.
Look, there are some lovely ideas at play here, including a spoof of The Devil Wears Prada (Emily Blunt plays Miss Piggy’s secretary), plus musical numbers written by Bret McKenzie, one half of Flight of the Conchords, and some neat jokes about being in a film such as this. After they’ve rounded up the first few Muppets, Gary pleads, ‘May I suggest we save time and pick up the rest of the Muppets in a montage?’ which is duly done. But, at some point, it ditches subversive parody and becomes a full-on we-have-to-put-a-show-on-type movie, and I rather lost interest. I know, I know, one has to cater to the kiddywinks who are new to this, but as Miss Piggy might say herself: Why isn’t it all about moi?
There are some other problems. Walter is dull, as are Gary and Mary (she’s the ultimate, no-personality, tag-along) and the star cameo, Jack Black, doesn’t add much, if anything at all. I just hoped for more vaudevillian anarchy and less sentimentality. Sometimes, it is a mistake to revisit your childhood with the same expectations. Recently, I even tried sluicing jelly between my teeth, spitting it back on to the spoon, and sucking it back up again, and you know what? It wasn’t so great either.