The Muppets – movie thoughts

Tonight I watched The Muppets.

I know, I’m a little late to the party. The movie has been out for over a month. I don’t get out to the movies much.

(Insert Statler and Waldorf heckle here: “Lucky!”)

I would describe myself as an above-average Muppet fan. I’ve seen the movies, watched the TV series (at least what has been released to DVD so far), and I admire Jim Henson’s work. I know the names and stories of many of the Puppeteers, and I listen to the Muppetcast Podcast as a passive-listener.

Going into the movie, I was worried about two things.

One: the plot is the old over-used Muppet formula — the gang has gone their separate ways, and must be brought together. It was done several times already, and would it work to do it again?

Two: Only one original puppeteer, still performing his own characters, remains from the Muppet Show days (Gonzo’s performer Dave Goelz). Every other major character is performed by a replacement puppeteer. Would they remain true to the characters and vocals?

So here is my reaction, after seeing the movie for the first-time:

Knowing this, the performances were great! Rowlf the Dog (who was the original Muppet to rise to popularity on The Jimmy Dean Show, even before Kermit the Frog) had a very brief speaking role, where his voice unfortunately sounded completely wrong to me. Fozzie Bear had more speaking parts, and didn’t sound right about half of the time he spoke. Despite these expected vocal differences in nearly all of the characters, they stayed very true to their personalities.

It felt like most of the singing and dancing was done by humans. As I left the movie, that struck me as odd. The songs were catchy, and the lyrics were just right to fit a Muppet movie. They took advantage of the talent in human Amy Adams by giving her a couple of great singing moments. But overall it seemed like it was out of balance with other Muppet productions, with too many humans driving the musical numbers.

A couple of times in outdoor scenes, we saw a billboard for Cars 2. That is a different franchise, and a movie which had its own critical problems with many fans. I know they filmed the Muppet movie about the time that Cars 2 was released and being promoted, and it does make sense to have another Disney movie on the billboard, if they are going to have anything at all. But by the time The Muppets reached theaters, Cars 2 was old news. I’m not sure what I would have replaced it with, but it will forever remain something that add a date reference to the movie – something most movies (but especially the Muppets) have always tried to avoid. Likewise the billboard for the iPad 2. In a movie that otherwise avoided modern technology (again dating the movie), why was this present? Maybe these things were unavoidably part of the outdoor shots they filmed – or Apple paid to have product placement in there?

The above-average Muppet fan in me is pretty sure that unseen announcer during the telethon is Jerry Nelson. Jerry had to retire due to health issues, but still does some vocal work for Sesame Street. It sounds like him, and I was pleased to think that he was given the opportunity to be part of the movie.

Finally, what happens next? As expected at the end of the tried-and-true formula, the gang is back together, and the show went on! Now that it is over, what happens? I would love to see a return of The Muppet Show now that this movie has proven that the performers have what it takes to make new Muppet entertainment! We now know that the Muppet theatre is rebuilt, and the brand is safe. The audience has been primed for the series to begin again. So I hope somebody at Disney is listening, and seriously things about resurrecting The Muppet Show format again. It could be fantastic!

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