Starring: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, Jason Segel, Amy Adams
Director: James Bobin
Felt like I’ve never felt before.
I’ll be honest: the placeholder entry for this review has been sitting here over a week now without me getting around to writing it. And while there are legitimate time-sensitive reasons behind that to an extent (I needed to strike while the iron was hot to get that Playing It Straight finale recap up while the Google hits were still coming in), there was definitely an element of procrastination on my part, and I wonder what that says about my feelings towards this film. Normally, whether I loved or loathed something, I’m excited about the prospect of writing up the review to the extent that I’m already mentally composing it on the way home, and yet with this, I kept finding “better” things to do, including cleaning the bathroom. That can’t be good, can it?
Cards on the table: I love the Muppets. I think The Muppet Christmas Carol in particular is a legitimately great movie by any standards, I think Beaker is a comic genius, and the Swedish Chef is basically my role model in life, BORK BORK BORK. So it’s no surprise that I was really looking forward to this film, especially since we were kept waiting for months to watch it over here, after it had already been released in America. That interim period was difficult, as I’d heard decidedly mixed reviews: some people saying that it was a reverent, witty and worthy addition to the Muppet canon, and others saying that there was just something off about it. And, as annoyingly fence-sitty as this is, I came out of the film feeling that both sides of that argument are valid to an extent.
The film gets a lot right: it includes loads and loads of characters, really rewarding the hardcore Muppet fans by giving cameo opportunities to some of the less famous cast members (while there obviously wasn’t as much Beaker as I would’ve liked, I think he was included about as much as it was credible to do so given that he is kind of a niche character), and the overall message of the message of the film that the Muppets are still brilliant and relevant even in the present day was absolutely on the money. The balance of new-to-old songs was well-handled too (I particularly appreciated the inclusion of ‘The Rainbow Connection’), with ‘Me Party’ and ‘Life’s A Happy Song’ being the standouts of the newbies, and I was impressed with the sheer mileage they got out of The Moopets, the extremely sub-par Muppets tribute act that Fozzie ends up performing with – especially Miss Poogie, who ends up part of the official Muppets for a short while. Also, I love it when ostensibly family-friendly fare slips more adult jokes past the censors (I swear, Happy Endings on E4/ABC is the absolute king of that right now), so there were several moments in this film that appeared to me: having the Swedish Chef quoting Scarface (in nonsense-Scandinavian, of course) and the way that the four-Muppet Barbershop cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was achievable by allocating ‘a mulatto’ and ‘my libido’ to Beaker to meep his way through. Well played, indeed.
Nobody was ever going to come to see this film purely because of the human cast, but their performances were perfectly decent: Amy Adams in particular just has that natural sunniness that’s a perfect fit for this kind of film. Jason Segel was very much Jason Segel, in that he’s quite an acquired taste. Personally, I have nothing against him, but I wasn’t entirely convinced that he brought anything particularly wonderful to this film as an actor. Obviously his and Adams’s characters were meant to be fairly flat archetypes for the purposes of the plot, but I think that’s all the more reason to raise your game and bring a bit of dynamism to your performance, which she did and he didn’t.
In terms of what didn’t work, my biggest bugbear was Muppet lead and newcomer Walter. I get that he was supposed to be the audience proxy, but I just found him really irritating and selfish as a character, and was a bit disappointed that no one ever actually called him out on basically hijacking Gary and Mary’s romantic holiday for his own purposes. The fact that his special talent, saved for the last act as a showstopper, was just whistling kind of summed up his ho-humness as a character for me.
I also had a big problem with the pacing – a lot of scenes just felt a bit unfinished, as though footage of a rehearsal had somehow ended up in the final cut, with some gags not nearly as sharp as they should have been. I wondered at first if that was intentional, given that the Muppets’ shows are always meant to be shambolic – but the point is that while the in-universe Muppets are always hacky and awful, normally the material presented to us as a real-world audience is sharp and polished (I refer you again to The Muppet Christmas Carol for an example of this). What infuriated me a little bit was going to TV Tropes after watching the film and discovering that a lot of the things I thought felt off about the film were apparently explained in accompanying material like tie-in books, and I’m sorry, but no. If people are expected to go away and read a book in order to tidy up those danging plot threads, then on some level at least, your film has failed. It’s not like it was a lean movie – with a 103 minute running time, there were plenty of inessential things they could’ve cut to include those extra details. That sort of sloppiness just frustrates me, the idea that the audience would prefer a batch more random jokes to an actual coherent plot.
I’m making it sound like I didn’t enjoy this movie, and that’s not fair; I did enjoy it while I was watching it, because it was a lot of fun, and there was a decent hit-rate of gags. It just became one of those films that I liked less and less the more I thought about it, and that’s a real shame. There’s bound to be another film, considering the success of this one, so I just hope they try to make the next one a little bit more internally consistent. Oh, and that they get Fozzie’s voice right, because seriously: what the FUCK was that?
We Bought A Zoo: Another one from the “I thought this had been and gone” files.
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists: I notice that in the “from the creators of” part of the trailer, Aardman seem to have disowned Flushed Away. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re disowning this one too in due course.