The Muppets review: are we not men? we are weirdoes

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The Muppets green light Amy Adams Jason Segel

MaryAnn’s quick take…
What is a Muppet? Is it something one is born? Is it something one chooses? Is it a state of mind? Is it a lifestyle?
I’m “biast” (pro): Muppets!
I’m “biast” (con): biast? moi?
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Subtle. Unspoken. Perhaps even unintended. The question. The Question, even.

What is a Muppet?

That question — in retrospect, one that desperately needed to be voiced — is at the quietly unsettling core of the 2011 return to the big screen of the entertainers who probably hadn’t even realized they’d raised the question decades ago… and hence certainly cannot have realized that they hadn’t answered it. Hell, I didn’t even realize that they’d asked it and then not answered it till I saw this movie.

Kermit the Frog? More like Kermit the Philosopher. Kermit the Existentialist Tormentor. Because I can’t even. Damn you, frog.

But. No. Wait. Is Kermit a frog first? Or is he a Muppet first? Because there are frogs who aren’t Muppets, right? And Muppets who aren’t frogs? There’s Miss Piggy, for instance, who is both pig and Muppet. And here we meet, for the first time, Walter, who’s a very manly Muppet. So is he a man, or is he a Muppet? Is Muppethood something one is born with? Is it something one chooses? Is it a state of mind? Is it a lifestyle?

Maybe the question is deeper still. Maybe the question is: What is identity? Does it arise merely from biology, or craftwork? Are we mere flesh and bone, or mere felt and hot glue… or are we more than whatever crude matter we are made of?

You don’t have to be a Muppet — manly or otherwise — to surf the existential angst here, because if you are watching the movie, then you probably have a lot in common with Walter. Maybe you’re not quite as insane a fan of the old 1970s The Muppet Show as he is, but like him, you grew up with it and you have very fond memories of the goofy entertainment it brought you. For Walter, though, there’s always been something extra special about the show, because it was his first peek at, well, Muppetness, which is something he didn’t even realize he felt, even though he’s made of felt. Growing up in Smalltown, America — that’s literally the name of his hometown — with his brother, Gary (Jason Segel: The Five-Year Engagement, Jeff, Who Lives at Home), Walter always knew there was something different about him, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was until he discovered The Muppet Show.

Or maybe you can relate to Walter on a deeper level. Maybe you were the only gay person you knew (or thought you knew) in your little burg. Maybe you were the only geek in your school. Maybe you just failed to conform in some elusive way so that everyone informed you of your weirdness with their teasing without actually ever telling you in what way you were different.

Maybe the question isn’t “What is a Muppet?” but “Are we not all Muppets?” At least all us misfits.

If we’re lucky, those of us most like Walter will have found a place to fit in as he does, when — on a trip to Los Angeles with Gary and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams: American Hustle, Her) — he stumbles into a plot by the maniacally laughing evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, The Tempest) to buy the former Muppet Studios and knock it down for the oil underneath. The plot of the movie may have Walter, Gary, and Mary gathering together the Muppets — starting with Kermit, of course — to put on one more show to raise the $10 million needed to save the studio, but that’s not what it is about.

I mean, sure, The Muppets is about showstopping, Broadway-quality song-and-dance numbers; cameos by famous people; kidnapping of famous people; the indignities of fading celebrity (as both Fozzie and Animal are learning when Kermit and Co. collect them); high fashion (as is always the case when Piggy is involved); general 70s retro nostalgia; global travels shortcuts afforded by The Movies; Chris Cooper rapping OMG; one woman’s sad and lonely smackdown of all-consuming bromance (in Amy Adams’s rendition of “Me Party”); and generally being smart and funny and wise and all-around zany in full-on Muppet fashion.

But mostly, The Muppets is about the rainbow-connection power of fandom. Which is why I’m heading out to L.A. to stalk Joss Whedon and convince him that we can raise the $10 million needed to put on more Firefly. Cuz I felt a real rainbow connection with Captain Mal Reynolds, and I just know that we’re gonna be best friends!

see also:
Muppets Most Wanted review: that’ll do, frog

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Wed, Mar 19, 2014 7:49pm

Yea! The Review!

Wed, Mar 19, 2014 8:46pm

I saw this again recently with my family as part of the NY Children’s Film Festival, with Actual Bret McKenzie and Actual Walter (and his puppeteer, introduced as “Walter’s intimate friend”) onstage, leading the audience in a sing-along. Toothbrushes and pennywhistles and glowsticks were distributed as props, for the appropriate moments. It was a total blast.

I love this movie, but it’s also clearly a nostalgia-fest that wants to remember the Muppets as a tad sweeter than they actually were. The original Muppets had more of a biting, freewheeling, anarchic spirit to them. Hopefully the sequel captures more of that.

Tonio Kruger
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 3:25pm

Awesome review.