Once upon a time, a boy longed to make sense of a world he didn't quite fit into. And then he found The Muppet Show. These Muppets—all goofballs, misfits and monsters—were weird like him. And they reveled in that weirdness. If there are Swedish chefs and boomerang fish, the world can't be so bad, the boy thought.
This boy is Walter, the new Muppet character at the center of the story in The Muppets. But this boy was also me, and perhaps even you too. Actor Jason Segel certainly was. And so, when Disney—who bought the Muppets in 2004—met with Segel about projects he might be interested in, the actor had one thing in mind: reviving the Muppets.
The Muppets have not seen the big screen since 1999's Muppets from Space. In fact, since Disney took over, the Muppets have only done a TV movie and some YouTube videos. As co-writer and executive producer, Segel's vision for reviving the franchise was to let art reflect reality. If 1976's The Muppet Movie documented the formation of the Muppets, what if a new movie showed their re-formation after a long absence from the public eye?
And so, Walter's story is pretty much Segel's story: Boy grows up loving The Muppets. Muppets disappear off the face of pop culture. Boy never forgets them. Boy brings them back for one big show.
And some show it is. True to the spirit of Jim Henson's original creation, The Muppets is odd, zany, cameo-heavy, surprising, sentimental, and sweet. Bottom line: This is one fun movie. You really just can't help but smile, laugh aloud several times and even tear up—especially if you have fond memories about a frog, pig, bear and whatever Gonzo is.
In terms of nostalgia, The Muppets is pitch-perfect. Because the Muppets have always allowed for self-reference and the breaking of fourth walls, much of this nostalgia is overt. For instance, when asked how they will get somewhere, Kermit replies: "Didn't you see our first movie? We drive!"
The first half of the new film is one big walk down memory lane as Walter and his decidedly more human brother Gary (Segel) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) travel to Los Angeles to visit the now rundown Muppet Studios. Along with Walter, we take a loving walk through Kermit's banjo-filled office, remember classic bits, and view the roped-off Electric Mayhem bus. Later, in one of my favorite sequences, Kermit strolls down a hallway of his friends' portraits remembering—in song—their good times and wondering if they could make the world laugh again.
The Muppets also evokes nostalgia by intentionally returning to the style and tone of the original Muppet productions. This world has that wide-eyed innocence but yet a tongue-in-cheek knowingness as it views our bright world of infinite possibilities. The movie also echoes motifs from Henson's work. The Muppet Movie was a road movie, and so The Muppets' first half is as well. Later, the movie takes on Muppets Take Manhattan's "let's-put-on-a-show" plot as the crew prepares a telethon to save their old theater from oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who smells black gold under the Muppets' land. As they do, much of the final third is simply The Muppet Show itself. Yes.