When I was a kid, and our VCR was an amazing piece of technology, while we rented a lot of movies, we didn’t really own very many. Mostly we’d just record movies off of the TV when they’d play. One of the few that I watched several million times was The Muppets Take Manhattan. Aside from Sesame Street, it was my main beloved method of exposure to the Muppets.
Last weekend I took the family to see their newest film, simply titled The Muppets, and had one of the best times I’ve had in the theater in my life. My nostalgia for these characters wasn’t simply acknowledged, it was celebrated. My kids weren’t raised on Sesame Street or the Muppet Show, and, much like as portrayed in the movie, these characters hadn’t much relevance for them. My 9-year-old son even admitted to being creeped out by those puppets. I figured this weekend would either cure him or traumatize him. I think it cured him, but he won’t admit it.
My 12-year-old son was pretty indifferent. It was like he was just too cool to be there, and I don’t think it connected with him. My 6-year-old daughter, however, was delighted. She laughed, danced a little, and applauded along with the movie’s audience at the big finale. So at least they’ve made one new fan in my family.
For me, it almost felt like this movie read my mind, found everything a Muppet movie was supposed to be, and spit it out onto the screen. The Muppets were playing themselves, not established characters like in Muppet Treasure Island or Muppet Christmas Carol; they’re at their best when they can be let loose to save the day by putting on a show. While Jason Segel & Amy Adams were fantastic in their parts, their characters stepped back and let the Muppets take top billing. It’s kind of a paradox: While nobody goes to a Muppet movie for the human actors, we still have to have great cameos. While the ones in this movie weren’t on the caliber of Manhattan, they were still pretty satisfying (although, what was up with James Carville?).
The songs were phenomenal. When they busted out “Rainbow Connection” at the end, I almost teared up. And if Jason Segel and the newest Muppet, Walter (oh yeah, I drew a cartoon of him above), aren’t allowed to sing “Life’s a Happy Song” at the Oscars and/or have that song win the award, everyone in Hollywood should be fired.
What I think I liked best, though, was the feeling that this movie was just flipping a giant bird (big bird?) to the cynicism that permeates almost all of what our culture is putting out for kids. The movie didn’t try to make the Muppets edgier or “XTreme”; the attitude was as simple as the characters themselves: Life’s a happy song, guys. Laugh and love each other.