Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Steve Whitmire (voice), Eric Jacobson (voice), Dave Goelz (voice), Bill Barretta (voice), David Rudman (voice), Matt Vogel (voice), Peter Linz (voice), Alan Arkin, Bill Cobbs, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Eddie Pepitone, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, James Carville, Leslie Feist, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, David Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Rico Rodriguez, Mickey Rooney
Written by: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Directed by: James Bobin
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor
Running Time: 98
Date: 11/04/2011

The Muppets (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Green Thoughts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Muppets have always been post-modern. On TV, "The Muppet Show" (1976-1981), was always as much about behind-the-scenes as it was about the stuff on stage. The brilliant The Muppet Movie (1979) skewed the road movie and the showbiz drama with constant self references, and even began and ended in a Hollywood screening room (with a stop in the middle when the film "breaks"). Now, some 35 years after the show began, writer/actor Jason Segel, writer Nicholas Stoller, and director James Bobin (of the great TV show "Flight of the Conchords"), revamp the Muppets for 2011, but remain true to that spirit of self-awareness.

A muppet named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) and a human named Gary (Segel) are brothers, for no discernible reason. They grow up together, and are now inseparable. This relationship often gets in the way of Gary's ten-year romance with the pretty schoolteacher Mary (Amy Adams, who is perfect for this kind of role). Gary and Mary are headed on a road trip together to Los Angeles, and Gary convinces her to let Walter come. Walter wants to see the famous Muppet studio, but is dismayed to find it in ruins, and even further upset when he learns that an evil Texas millionaire (Chris Cooper) wants to buy it, tear it down, and drill for oil. Walter tracks down Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire) and tells him the news: they must raise ten million dollars to save the studio. "The only way to raise that kind of money," Kermit replies, "is to put on a show!"

Thus we get an "assemble-the-team" movie, a road movie, and a "let's-put-on-a-show" movie, all with complete awareness, commentary, silly star cameos, and references to past Muppet lore. The characters agree to speed things up with a montage. Rowlf the dog (voiced by Bill Barretta) wants to know why he wasn't in the montage; a flashback reveals that his story just wasn't very interesting. Of course, the filmmakers give extra time to Walter's plight: will he find what it is he's supposed to do in life? Can Gary save his ailing relationship with Mary? And what about Kermit's painful reunion with Miss Piggy (voiced by Eric Jacobson)? The movie sometimes slows down for these melancholy moments, and longtime Muppet fans will undoubtedly have more fun than young ones, but for the most part, it's a witty, delightful romp. "Flight of the Conchords" star Bret McKenzie wrote the movie's songs, and that show's intrepid co-star Kristen Schaal appears in a cameo.

Disney has released a wonderful DVD/Blu-Ray combo with many Muppet-friendly extras (there's nothing for hardcore cinephiles who wish to know how it was all done). It also includes several spoof trailers, deleted scenes, and a commentary track with actor/writer Segel, co-writer Stoller, and director Bobin. If you buy this package and join Disney Rewards, you get a free download of the soundtrack album.

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