Guys, I’m…I’m Not Sure I Really Liked The Muppets
I mean, I liked it. It was nice, I had a good time, there were some funny jokes and everything. And it was definitely full of characters that I like to see, and it was nice to see them again, sometimes they said funny things. Also, there were celebrity cameos, like when Dave Grohl played for the evil Muppet band, and James Carville was answering the phone at the telethon. It’s funny, because those aren’t situations that you’d expect to see Dave Grohl or James Carville in!
But once the immediate flush of recognition had worn off, some days later, I…I’ve actually been (and believe me when I say that it is deeply painful for me to write this) kind of getting the feeling that this movie just…wasn’t very good.
The kind of biggest problem, and let’s just get this out of the way first, is the B-plot, with Jason Segel and Amy Adams and that other new Muppet, Melvin or whatever his name was. Or maybe that was the A-plot and the Muppet Telethon was the B-plot, and that’s actually kind of a problem, isn’t it? If I’m not sure which is the plot that I’m supposed to care about? Except, obviously I only care about the Muppet plot, because who the hell are these other people? Gary, Mary, Melvin? (Is his name Melvin? No, wait, I think it was Walter.) Why am I supposed to give a crap whether or not Melvin is a Muppet? I mean, he’s obviously a Muppet because he’s made of felt, but…
Oof. Honestly, I keep trying to figure out how to write about this part of the movie, and it keeps collapsing on me because of how much I completely don’t care about it. It’s just so saccharine, so perfunctory. Like, what are the stakes here? Jason Segel doesn’t get to marry Amy Adams because she’s sad, I guess? And bummer on him, because Amy Adams is pretty, so…ugh, I don’t care.
And honestly, what kind of bullshit is this? The guy has got a brother who was born with a felt-based deformity, you’d think she could at least stick with Jason Segel long enough for him to help his…his brother to get…ahhh, fuck it.
The problem is, that whole part of the script kind of crowds out the rest of the plot. Like, a movie about, “The Muppets have to have a telethon to save their theater from an evil Texas oil-man and his anti-Muppets”, that’s a strong plot. And if it’s got a couple sub-plots like, “Kermit and Miss Piggy need to reconcile,” and maybe “Gonzo has become a square and needs to be reminded of who he really is” (this would also work with Animal, and the weird thing is, they obviously THOUGHT of those things, but only built them up to: 1) a gag in the first twenty minutes of the movie, and 2) a drum solo in Rainbow Connection. Which, again, I mean it was nice, in that cheery harmless way that nice things are, but I don’t know, it just feels like a bit of a waste), that’s…well, there you go. That’s a movie.
Trading on the Muppet legacy makes a lot of sense, in that all of these characters are clear, well-developed, and funny. You can take them and mix them up in a whole bunch of ways and it’s great, because we don’t really need to know a lot about them in order to appreciate it. I mean, look at that scene with Kermit and Miss Piggy — you don’t need to do any exposition; that is a scene with a huge sense of history.
But that scene is two minutes long, and takes a backseat to Melvin and Gary’s filial relationship which isn’t a tenth as fraught as the pre-existing Muppet relationships.
So, what happens is: the emotional core of the film, which should rely heavily on the pre-existing Muppet characters, is shunted on to three new under-developed characters. Instead, the Muppets hold up the jokes-end of the movie, and that trades almost entirely on nostalgia. They do some funny stuff, don’t even get me wrong; but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say between 70-90% of those funny things are just references to other things that we already know about them. Like, they’ve all got their bits that they do — Beaker flips out and gets shrunk by the Large Hadron Collider; Bunson acts like John Hodgman; Gonzo gets stuck in a bowling ball.
There were a lot of celebrity cameos, and those are great in principle, but mostly wasted here. The Whoopi Goldberg / Selena Gomez / that kid from Modern Family actually felt kind of…uh…cynical, I guess? Kind of a little like the Disney Engine’s pistons were showing? Sarah Silverman I don’t like in general, but she also didn’t have anything to do here; Jim Parsons actually looked like he was literally surprised to be there, I’m not sure how I feel about that. Zack Gallifinakis and Chris Cooper were great, though, I’m not saying it was a total loss.
(All of this, weirdly, made me nostalgic for Muppets From Space; am I the only one who liked that movie? I still laugh about Pepe and Clifford the Catfish trying to get Katie Holmes to come back to their hot tub.)
I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time. I am saying that I felt like that movie relied a whole lot more on me loving the Muppets than it spent time making it lovable. And I got the kind of weird feeling that Jason Segel had an idea for a Muppet movie and then just wrote himself into it because he loves the Muppets.