Together Again: The return of 'The Muppets'

The Muppets are back and I could not be happier. The new film The Muppets brings us back to the clever humor, zany antics and heartwarming fun of the previous movies and the eponymous television show. This story of friendship, fan-ship and discovering your true talent will delight kids and those who are kids at heart. 

The movie begins with Walter, a Muppet from Smalltown, USA who is the number one fan of Kermit the Frog and the gang. Walter always felt different growing up with his brother Gary (Jason Segel). As Gary grew taller and got to ride roller coasters and enjoy other adult pastimes, Walter felt left behind. Yet when Walter discovered the Muppets, he found something more: individuals just like him, who were also capable of bringing joy and laughter to the world. When Gary decides to take his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to Los Angeles for their anniversary, Walter comes along, eager to see the Muppet studio and perhaps even meet one of his heroes.

Yet things are not well in Muppetland. The scheming oil-baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to take over the now-decrepit Muppet studio and drill underneath. Walter discovers the plot and convinces Gary and Mary to help find Kermit and warn him. They find the former front man alone in an L.A. mansion. Walter faints multiple times in the presence of his idol, but once regains his composure and sets out to convince the reluctant Kermit to produce another show to save the studio. Kermit feels disconnected from his old pals, especially a certain impetuous pig, but is won over by Walter's absolute belief in him. Fun with movie tropes ensues as we travel "by map" and montage to roundup Gonzo, Fozzie, Animal and rest of the gang.

"The Muppets" feels both familiar and wonderfully fresh. Segel, who co-wrote the film, is a huge fan of the Muppets, as evidenced by his homage in the 2008 comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The film subtly explores how our passions shape us. Walter's love for the Muppets has defined his life, and working with Kermit becomes the fulfillment of so many dreams. As he tells Kermit, "You're my hero. You're on my [wrist] watch." Though Walter seems content to help backstage, the compassionate frog pushes him to create a new act for the show. Despite having helped to reunite the Muppets, Walter feels unworthy to perform with them. When Walter discovers his talent, he finds the self-confidence to act on his dreams and become a part of the group. 

The film skillfully portrays the relationship between entertainers and fans. Fans have something to give the people they adore, especially when the world has forgotten them. Walter constantly reminds Kermit of the impact he has had on his many fans. In Walter, Kermit can see his influence not just on the young fan but also on the world. And with Kermit's encouragement, Walter finally finds his place as a Muppet. That kind of love, sometimes maligned as fanaticism, is handled with respect.

The film also explores the love between friends and the challenges of caring for your closest companions. Gary loves the Muppets because Walter does; and he stays to help because Walter needs him. Gary's encouragement of Walter has overshadowed his relationship with Mary, and he forgets the reason why they came to L.A. Walter is too nervous about performing in the Muppet show to see the sacrifices Gary has made to support him.

The same theme runs through Kermit's relationships as he is reunited with his friends. After much urging from Fozzie, Kermit asks Miss Piggy, now living in Paris, to come back for the show. Considering their bond, the tempestuous pig wants more from the frog than the standard pitch he gives to Gonzo or Scooter. She wants to know Kermit wants her to return because he loves her. Kermit knows the show will fail without its famous diva, but is reticent to explore their relationship again. When the two share the stage, their bond becomes clear and Kermit realizes his love for Piggy and the courage to express it.

Celebrity cameos, catchy new songs along with familiar Muppet hits like “The Rainbow Connection” make this film a delight for fans. It easily fits in the Muppet oeuvre because it focuses on the two important things the Muppets have always offered: laughter and love. (It also may be the funniest film I have seen all year.) The Muppets create their familiar flurry of fun, transforming pop songs and cultural references into Muppet humor—like Camilla and the Chickens' rendition of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” Segel and Adams expertly balance the heightened comedy of acting with Muppets, while being self-aware enough to poke fun at themselves. In one scene, Adams sings of wanting more time with Gary as she gazes through what appears to be a rain-soaked window. When her song is over, she nods to the man watering hedges outside for his help in adding gravity to her solo.

Watching this film with kids is mandatory. Hearing their gasps and cackles brings an added joy to the experience, although your own chuckling may drown them out. The film presents laughter as one of the strongest tools we have against division, cynicism and fear; and the ability to make people laugh pulls the Muppets together to protect their legacy. That laughter brings more and more supporters to the Muppet show, defying the greedy interests of Tex Richman. Finally, the laughter and joy radiating from the stage emboldens Walter to take his place as a Muppet, culminating in a final push to save the studio. 

“The Muppets” is a terrific film for your holidays, and its message may become a part of your everyday life. Friendship, love and laughter are things we need in surplus and the Muppets are back to give us our fill. 

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