The Muppets is not a perfect movie. It is not the best incarnation of the franchise. Kermit and Company have been better. Even the two principal human stars of the film -- Jason Segel and Amy Adams -- have had better moments on screen. All those facts notwithstanding, The Muppets remains a tremendous cinematic moment all the same.
We live in an age of irony. Sarcasm and aloofness is celebrated in all walks of life -- in seemingly every area of the entertainment world -- and often being entertained at the movie theater means having to be in on the joke. There's nothing wrong with that, by the way. Whether it's the brazenly lo-fi South Park or genre send-ups like Shaun of the Dead, irony is often worthy of appreciation.
But it does make it hard, at times, to find reliable sources of genuine, unironic bliss. Jim Henson's creations are stalwarts in that sense. For 40-some years we have been dared to not smile whenever we see Kermit's measured facial expressions or laugh when we hear Fozzie's corny jokes and for 40-some years we have chickened out.
The Muppets is no exception to this rule. In fact, it largely seems dedicated to celebrating their immense legacy. It begins with Gary (Segel), his brother Walter, a Muppet who doesn't quite know he's one yet, and his girlfriend Mary (Adams) in Smalltown. Gary and Walter share much, but nothing more than their love of the Muppets -- their primary method of sibling bonding over the years.
In fact, they love the Muppets so much that visiting Muppet Studios becomes the unintended focal point of a trip to Los Angeles that was originally intended as a celebration of Gary and Mary's 10-year anniversary. Once in L.A., the trio discovers that Muppet Studios has become dilapidated and that Tex Richman, an oil baron played by Chris Cooper, wants to tear down the Studios to drill for oil. They also find the Muppets themselves in shabby shape -- disbanded and out of touch, their fame having faded long ago.
Getting the proverbial gang back together becomes the focal point of the trip -- at the expense of the anniversary celebrations of Gary and Mary -- because putting on a show at the Studios and raising $10 million is the only way to halt Richman's dastardly plans. And with that, you have the two principal problems that must be solved for The Muppets to reach its conclusion.
I won't spoil the end (though you might guess the resolution anyway), but that's not really the point of course. The points are Fozzie's lousy jokes, Kermit's soulful songs, The Swedish Chef's absurd gibberish and a whole bunch of delightful musical numbers and celebrity cameos.
Music hasn't always been what makes the Muppets' cinematic vehicles so enjoyable, but it's particularly good in this iteration. Flight of the Conchords star Bret McKenzie was the music supervisor and his fingerprints will be noticeable to fans of the HBO show -- most notably during "Man or Muppet."
The music, like the rest of the film, is nearly pitch perfect. I didn't much enjoy Cooper's portrayal of Richman and it was awkward to have the impossibly adorable Walter in essence pitted against Adams' Mary, but these are minor quibbles. The Muppets is a 90-plus minute love letter to Henson, and it's impossible not to get caught up in that passion. Here's hoping a new generation of children will feel the same way and start digging through The Muppet Show archives.