It's not often that I get to watch and write about a film before it comes out. I was lucky enough to have been invited to the special preview screening of The Muppets at the opening night of the LoCo first London Comedy Film Festival at the BFI, of which importance I can’t stress enough and I will do so vigorously in one of my upcoming articles, and so I proudly present my first real time film review (real time for UK, The Muppets has been released everywhere else last year). This review contains some spoilers, but there will be a warning before they come.
I was over the moon and way over excited when I saw the first trailer for the The Muppets. On top of my never dying love for everything Jim Henson and his company have done Muppets and then some, there were the gorgeous Amy Adams and adorable Jason Segel to make my happiness know no limits.
My joy of the upcoming The Muppet was somewhat soured when I discovered more than one of my friends who dismissed the Muppets as something of the past. “They were funny when I was a kid, now they don’t do it for me” was one crushing comment, and not loving the Muppets enough to watch a whole film with them was another point of view which devastated me. I can’t tell what made me sadder; to find out how easy it has became to give up going to the cinema; particularly painful notion when I think that there is nothing quite like sharing the elation and excitement that The Muppets creates, with fellow films and Muppets lovers. Or the realisation that I have friends who think they are too old for the Muppets; something I hope I will never feel.
Those who know and appreciate the wonderfulness that is Flight of the Conchords and the magic of Brett McKenzie will probably agree that the combination of McKenzie, director James Bobin and the Muppets is a match made in heaven. Bobin, who co created Flight of the Conchord with Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, knew exactly what he was doing when he brought McKenzie to be the music supervisor of The Muppets; the songs are Muppetliciously delightful.
Still, The Muppets is not a film only for people in the know. I don’t share the feeling of some that The Muppets would be enjoyed mainly by diehard Muppets fans, and that today's youth would not get it. True, Jason Segel, who is also one of the scriptwriters, is indeed a huge Muppets fan and it definitely comes across in the film, but James Bobin, like he said in the Q&A after the film, wanted to share the Muppets love with people, like his own daughter, who never heard of the Muppets. I think the result was the right kind of mixture between nostalgic fandom and the third greatest gift the Muppets can offer to anyone, fan or not; laughter. “Genuine old-timey laughs and puns, and it’s never at anyone’s expense.” Like Segel said in an interview. As someone who is mostly bitterly cynical at best, I cherish true joy, the kind that allows me, even if just for a moment, to laugh because the funny makes me happy, not because it’s sad or tries to outsmart me, and to me the Muppets would always be connected with that.
The Muppets Show was quite unlike anything on television at the time. It was full of crazy ideas and was generally bonkers. That was part of what made the generation who grew up with it fall in love with it. The spirit of madness and chaos of the original show, as well as its good hearted fun, are as present and strong in the film as they were in the show. Those who will fall in love with the film, whether they have known the Muppets all their lives or not, will love it for the same reasons we loved the show the first time we’ve seen it, and those who won't would have not like the show anyway.
It is a shame that Frank Oz, the second, and… well… after Henson’s untimely death the only most important name attached to the Muppets, has decided not to take part in the film due to his disapproval of the script. I respect his decision, though I can’t say I understand it. It won’t be difficult for aficionados to notice the changes to the voices, mainly those of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, but Kermit as well. I daresay most fans won’t like it. I think, however, this condemnation is unjust and comes out of over protectiveness and preciousness for the original cast and voices more than anything, and the Muppeteers have done a remarkable job with the voices; trying to stay true to the characters and fit the overall ageing mood and sense of nostalgia of the film.
Spoiler fest starts here. Enter at your own peril!
I read that there was suppose to be another ending to The Muppets in here. I agree that the ending described, which apparently was filmed, would have been better than the one in the finished film. I also think that the ending as it was, with the Muppets starting over, with the love of the fans and without the addition of the newspaper headlines about Tex Richman changing his mind, would have made for a good ending, but perhaps more complicated to explain to kids. Nevertheless, the ending became less important at the overall of this really lovely film.
True to their nature, The Muppets is of course quite post modern and Meta. Within so much Meta films and television around, The Muppets remains funny and clever. There are plenty of nods and tributes to Jim Henson, from small little statues of him, to referring to the first Muppet film. The film makers and characters are very loyal and loving of their roots.
I absolutely adored the idea of Kermit living a Sunset Boulevard-esque life and his first song brought me to tears. I loved Fozzie as the only original in a Muppet’s tribute band the Moopets, Gonzo as a plumbing phenomena, and the 80s robot. Those little things as well as the great ones like the magnificent rehearsal and eventually the performance of the opening song, are what made The Muppets such a great fun to watch.
End of Spoiler fest!
I was overjoyed to find out at the Q&A with Bobin that one of the scenes he shot and didn’t make it to the film, but will probably be reach the DVD/BluRay extras, was a scene showing the Muppets going down the stairs after the show’s opening song. Making this film has given Bobin the opportunity to explore those little silly fandom things and I love it because as much as it is a Muppet film, The Muppets is a film about true fandom; it takes pride at being a fan and pleasure at being a grown up Muppets fan. It conquers the heart and wins at joy.
I totally abandoned everything I was doing to watch this in full.
Be warned there is a bit of a spoiler on that second part.