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Wholesome PG-rated triple feature part 1: The Muppets

tn_muppetsAfter watching the whole HOSTEL trilogy I felt like I had to watch something a little happier, and preferably with less torture, although that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. Well, it just so happens that three great filmmakers of the ’70s – Martin Scorsese, George Miller and Kermit the Frog – have released new PG-rated family movies in recent weeks. So somehow I ended up watching them. And you know I am hesitant to spend too much time on puppets and cartoon animals and crap like that, but honestly these movies all have a little something to say, a little more going on beneath the surface than alot of the ones they make that are supposedly for grown adults. Maybe puppet movies and cartoons are just such a pain in the ass to make that people figure if they’re gonna do one they should try to make it worthwhile. Although that wouldn’t explain the Chipmunk movies.

Let’s get THE MUPPETS over with first, since I figure most of the Muppet-positive or Muppet-curious individuals have already seen it and gone over most of what there is to discuss. The main thing about this movie is there’s a little part where Amy Adams and Rashida Jones are in the same room. In that sense this movie is a landmark and hopefully will be very influential.

It’s also about the popular performing puppet collective The Muppets (THE MUPPET MOVIE) and is a love letter to their movies, TVs, etc. thought up by star/writer Jason Segel and successfully marketed as a cool new take on The Muppets for a new generation. At some point though they remembered that “new” is not a concept that has been introduced to this generation yet, so they switched to the ol’ nostalgic-look-back-at-shit-that-already-exists type of approach. Segel and his out-of-his-league girlfriend Amy Adams are planning a romantic Spring Break trip to L.A. for their anniversary, but Segel insists on bringing his brother Walter, an obsessed Muppets fan, to tour the legendary Muppet Studios lot.

mp_muppetsThe only thing the two brothers have in common is that they both wear wacky out-of-fashion blue suits. In a nice touch of absurdity Walter is played by a puppet, and nobody seems to think that’s weird. But that means he has this whole “where do I belong?” dilemma they always have in these family movies. The being-a-puppet part I can dig, but I don’t really get why he’s such an annoying weiner. He grew up with Segel, they’re supposed to be about the same age, but Segel always lovingly calls him “buddy” like he’s taking his son to his first ball game. Not since MUAY THAI GIANT have I been so confused about whether or not a movie character was supposed to be mentally disabled.

Why can’t he just be a dude who happens to be a puppet? Why does everybody have to handle him with kid gloves? Did they cut out a part where he only has a few days to live and nobody told him yet? And why is his only trait his fandom? No offense to Headgeek, but in my opinion the nerd community has to at some point move beyond this “I have a deep personal connection to this, because my mom bought me a lunch pail of it” mentality. Yeah, all kinds of people liked all kinds of stuff when they were kids. Some kids grew up loving trains, or dinosaurs, or eating boogers, or watching Veggie Tales. Hopefully they got more going on in their souls than just what toy they liked best.

So the beginning of the movie is about worshipping the Muppets, then they track down Kermit, who is living alone in a dusty mansion. Turns out the Muppets don’t speak to each other, and even Miss Piggy is gone (I bet you ten bucks that bitch cheated on him). But due to a contract they signed if they don’t raise a million dollars an evil oil baron (Academy Award winner Chris Cooper) is gonna own the name “The Muppets” and destroy the theater where the Muppet Show was filmed. And I guess it’s too late to apply for historical landmark status. So the humans and the weenie puppet help Kermit reunite the old gang for a fundraiser show.

I’ve been kinda picking at some things I didn’t like about the approach, but it’s a highly enjoyable movie. There are alot of funny jokes and good original songs and a sweet attitude. Some have complained that there are too many humans in it, but these are pretty good humans. Amy Adams sings a song called “Me Party.” I don’t know why that’s allowed, but I approve. Ironically back in 1999 it was a “me party” scene that caused Rupert Murdoch to personally cancel the airing of her TV series Manchester Prep (it was later re-edited into CRUEL INTENTIONS 2):

I just wish THE MUPPETS wasn’t about referencing the previous Muppet works. Yeah, it’s cute to see them singing the rainbow song again, but isn’t the old version available on DVD? I think it is. I could just watch that I bet.

What saves the day is a great, unexpected ending where (SPOILER) nobody saves the day. Our guys don’t end up raising enough money, in fact not even close at all. When the credits start rolling they’ve “lost,” Chris Cooper owns the theater and the name “The Muppets.” But Kermit tells everyone that it doesn’t matter. That’s just a trademark, a likeness, a building. It’s a property, a franchise, a likeness, a trademark – that shit’s for soul-less industry knuckleheads and their lawyers to concern themselves with. Basically, the guy owns all the logos on Walter’s lunchboxes and Pee-Chees and shit, but he doesn’t own the actual guys in the pictures or the heart and soul that they pour into the work, the stuff that made Walter make his parents buy all that stupid crap for him. So the Muppets realize they haven’t lost what’s important, in fact they’ve regained it by having this reunion. They go outside and they’re swarmed on the streets by all the fans who love them even if they can’t legally call themselves Muppets™®©2011 Chris Cooper Industries anymore.

It’s a smart ending that works on multiple levels. It says that it doesn’t matter if Disney owns The Muppets now, or if Taco Bell owns them tomorrow, it doesn’t even matter if you think this “new take” on The Muppets sucks, ’cause the version that you love and that you consider pure is still on record and will always be “the real Muppets” to you, regardless of the official corporate stance on the subject. It’s acknowledging that those movies really meant something profound to Jim Henson and the rest of those hippies and that that meaning is what’s important to people.

Of course, now word has gotten out about an alternate ending where they do raise a million dollars and don’t have to have any of these realizations. True to form, many nerds say that the substance-free ending would’ve been better, and they blame the big corporation for ruining everything. So maybe it is the pajamas and pencil erasers and shit that’s important to some people after all.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Family, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “Wholesome PG-rated triple feature part 1: The Muppets”

  1. Rashida Jones kisses Zooey Deschanel in OUR IDIOT BROTHER, a horrible movie that somehow manages to make the lesbianism not sexy.

    And today Fox keeps airing these commercials during football showing Zooey in bra & panties (though her forehead remains as rare a sight as a white tiger in the wild). So, say what you will about Rupert Murdoch’s broadcast prudishness, but maybe’s he come around after all.

    What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, Amy Adams is awesome.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAsG__XjU8Q
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRHkOsz8HZE

  2. Dammit Vern, is there nothing you can’t turn into a nerd-bashing exercise? Damn yoooouuuu!

  3. It should be pointed out that even though they lose, if you pay attention during the credits Chris Cooper gives the name and theater back because Fozzie made him laugh for the first time in his life.

  4. Well I totally fucking love this movie. It’s tied for my favorite of the year with RUBBER. Yes, I have a reputation for loving meta and referential comedy.

    But, I had no nostalgia for The Muppets. I liked them, I’ve seen all their movies and shows and theme park attractions, but that’s not why I loved the movie. It’s just great comedy. The Vaudeville antics still hold up, and applied to the new generation of film still work. Traveling by map would be funny even if they hadn’t done it in another movie, but it’s got that layer too.

    I guess what I love is that it’s comedy with no rules. They’re nostalgic but they don’t save the day (tagging the Cooper thing in the credits is just another F U to resolving plot structure IMO.) It’s self-referential and full of life lessons but all of that stops for the sake of any joke. One of my colleagues complained there were 10 life lessons in the movie. She’s right. If that’s not you’re thing, they’re in your face. Personally I won’t settle for any less than 9 important morals. I loved that Walter is basically a gay kid who thought he was alone until he saw Ellen on TV. Only in this movie puppet is a metaphor for gay, or other minority.

    Also nice to hear Flight of the Conchords music again. Everyone’s raving about Man or Muppet and Pictures in my Head because they’re sad and seriousish. I think Life’s a Happy Song is brilliant, melodically and lyrically (again, they break their own lyrical structure because it’s funnier that way.) And doing a full second version of it for a finale.

    And Vern, don’t you think Segal was mega acting in this? I mean, no one’s allowed to act that happy and earnest even in a kids movie. That takes the happy tone to another level too. Certainly Chris Cooper’s song proves he is the greatest actor of all time. And the humans really do take a total backseat.

  5. sorry Vern, as soon as you mentioned CRUEL INTENTIONS 2 all I could think about was that shower scene in it with the twins with the gigantic twins

    …..wait what’s that? The Muppets? yeah, yeah that’s great….

  6. ““new” is not a concept that has been introduced to this generation yet, so they switched to the ol’ nostalgic-look-back-at-shit-that-already-exists type of approach.”

    Wow. Just . . . wow. This is why I come here every day.

  7. Stu – you’re right, I should take out the “nerds” in the last paragraph, that’s unfair. But the part about collecting shit stays.

  8. Vern – Them reusing that song makes sense if you view the Muppets like you would those old pop music acts whether Stevie Wonder or U2 or Prince or Public Enemy or whoever.

    They still tour and record in varying degrees, but the people who go to those concerts don’t care about the new music, they only want to hear the classics, the hits from long ago. and that’s what those acts do to sell-out concerts: Play the oldies but goodies.

    Plus it ties into how strange THE MUPPETS as a movie proposition really is. It’s constructed for kids with some winks, nods, and references (plus cameos) for their parents. The formula. Yet MUPPETS is marketed towards nostalgic adults, they’re the ones who mostly want to see it. I mean I would assume most kids wouldn’t care because it means nothing to them.

    Anyway, I enjoyed it. I hated that Danny Trejo’s cameo was cut out of the movie (BOOOO!) but I did like Parsons’ cameo.

  9. Of all the reviews I have to avoid on this site lately, who would have thought the big one would be for The Muppets. I really want to take my son to this next week for his birthday. He loves all the old school Muppet/Sesame Street clips I’ve shown him on YouTube (Grover’s Near and Far bit cracks him up so hard I can’t get him to settle down afterward!), plus he loves anything music-related. Gonna have to gear up by watching the old-school films on Netflix.

  10. And could someone tell me without spoilers why American Beauty would be a related post? Does Miss Piggy float naked over Kermit at one point, covered only by rose petals?

  11. Vern- Fair enough, but only if that means you consider Dave “Batista” Bautista a nerd for his lunchbox collection.

    RRA- “Plus it ties into how strange THE MUPPETS as a movie proposition really is. It’s constructed for kids with some winks, nods, and references (plus cameos) for their parents. The formula. Yet MUPPETS is marketed towards nostalgic adults, they’re the ones who mostly want to see it. I mean I would assume most kids wouldn’t care because it means nothing to them.”
    To the extent that Kermit will appear on late night talk shows, rather than the puppeteer. Also, since they’ve existed on screens since the seventies without aging, aren’t they functionally immortal? Yet no one raises the issues brought about by this. Statler and Waldorf, will they ever die? And if not, what kind of life is it to be constantly elderly and gleefully negative all the time? Will Elmo ever grow up? When the human race is extinct, will the Muppets be forced to carry on alone? Presumably Muppets are american citizens if they seemingly have the same rights as humans(Kermit and Miss Piggy got seemingly married at the end of MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN), so could Muppets be drafted into war? If the new Muppet is the brother of a human, does this make Muppets actually the next step in human evolution(like X-Men mutants)? If the Count’s a vampire, but also a Muppet, does that mean he has to drink Muppet blood, even though Muppets don’t appear to have blood? How related are the Muppets to the DARK CRYSTAL, LABYRINTH and FARSCAPE puppets?

  12. Sounds to me like Stu is saying the Muppets are racist against mortality.

  13. I’ll have whatever Stu is smoking.

  14. ANoniMouse – Judging by the reaction of the tater tots at my screening, I’m sure your boy will enjoy it.

    RE: American Beauty – No such scene fortunately exists, but I’m reminded of that old joke:

    Why did Kermit never marry Ms. Piggy?
    Because he’s Jewish, and it’s not kosher to eat pork.

    Stu – Did anybody else think funny, if never said outright, that Kermit and Ms. Piggy were the only ones to make any actual money from that show while everybody else practically were destitute or still having to work regular jobs? (Except Gonzo surprisingly.)

    Kermit may be a decent guy to your face and hell he might even be, but push comes to shove between you, him, and money, like Jay Leno he’ll subconciously fuck you over while psychologically convincing himself that he’s a victim in all of this.

  15. Jason Segal mega-acting? Anyone? No?

    AnoniMouse: American Beauty is related because Chris Cooper is in both. However his deadpan evil and musical number are even more amazing in THE MUPPETS.

  16. Fred – No, he wasn’t mega acting.

    (At least by Nic Cage standards.)

    One thing from that Chris Cooper rapping segment (I can’t believe I wrote that), but I seem to remember all those chorus girls going back to his reception area, already going back to stationary before the door closed, as if their daily jobs is singing/dancing for this douchebag when he’s trashing his competitors.

    BTW, did anyone here hear about right-wing bloggers bitching about how the movie is uber-liberal evil because the villain is an oil baron?

  17. @RRA- Man, that thing about the movie being liberal evil because the villain is an oil baron is just ridiculous. “The Muppets” are one of the very few bastions of innate decency left on the entire planet and while oil makes cars run it fucks shit up pretty good, too. In short, it’s fair to assume that the more money you make off oil the bigger an asshole you probably are.

  18. RRA, explain. I believe that is exactly the performance Nicolas Cage would give in a Muppet movie.

  19. Okay, Nic would do more Mick Jagger poses, and get Kermit to mimic him too, I’ll give you that.

  20. Fred – Big aesthetic difference you’re forgetting: Segel co-wrote the movie, he had in mind that performance when he was typing it up. And he never came off as “mega acting” to me. He came off as Segel being Segel. Was Amy Adams mega acting too? If anything, I think he was trying to be that sort of corny wholesale guy from old Hollywood movies that now comes off as corny…which was the point I guess.

    Cage doesn’t write movies. He’s given a script written byother people, and I suppose just does whatever the fuck he wants at the moment.

    brandon curtis – Nevermind the movie gave him the name Mr. Richman. It’s an archetype stereotype, based on somewhat reality we all broadly as a society agree upon, but exaggerated on steroids for comedy.

    Of course same people were worried about the global warming propaganda in HAPPY FEET TWO. Incidentally, same people were probably the only wants who went to see that shit.

  21. RRA – yeah, but if Prince made another movie I bet he wouldn’t play “Purple Rain” in it.

  22. Vern – Touche. (Unless of course its a GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET. Nobody rush to IMDB all at once. Trust me, not worth it.)

  23. RRA – conservatives bitch and moan about almost every movie these days as having an “evil liberal bias”

    they just flat out hate Hollywood

  24. Griff – Somone fired-off an email to Andrew Sullivan’s blog making a point I’ve never noticed before: The non-existence of abortion at the movies.

    I mean a 30 year old movie in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH had all things considered a pretty intelligent, mature approach on abortion, atleast for a “teen stoner comedy.” Yet look at recent pictures, abortion is either never mentioned or if it is, its delicately off to the side.

    Or JUNO tooks the reverse course. Otherwise I’m not aware especially when a pro-choice argument is thematically made at the moviesin recent years. If movies reflect culture, then the Pro-Lifers have apparently won the mainstream.

    (Of course on reverse of the coin, the Evangelicals are losing the war culturally on Gay Rights.)

  25. Griff: They are just jealous, becaise liberals are these days the better filmmakers. Back in the 80’s they were at least able to put some highly entertaining, but sometimes morally VERY questionable action movies.

  26. RRA – I think it’s because abortion is the hot button issue to end all hot button issues and Hollywood knows that no good can come of bringing it up

    plus, regardless of you stance on it there’s no denying that sucking a fetus out of the womb with a vacuum cleaner is an inherently unpleasant subject matter

  27. The thing about Hollywood’s “liberal agenda” is, stories about rich assholes who shit on everyone and everything around them and never get punished or learn any kind of lesson about it are not dramatic and thus not interesting (unless you’re in the realm of black comedy, which, historically, mainstream America hates). So even the rich assholes who run studios know that it makes better business sense to tell stories about poor underdogs who triumph over rich bullies, even if they personally can’t relate.

  28. I’ve read a few articles recently that suggest that the instant availability of so much media has created a marked confusion between the idea of identity (who we are) with consumption (what we’re into), between creating with collecting.

    Most of these articles are optimistic about the possibility of expressing something about ourselves by doing little more than presenting our collections and thoughtfully underlining the juxtapositions inherent in all collections.

    The articles are generally interesting to read, but I still fail to recognize anything creative in a dude proudly wearing a Def Leppart t-shirt, even if he combines it with a dancer’s tutu and a porkpie hat.

  29. On second thought, maybe they should have let the Bomb Squad make a MUPPETS movie. I’d be in favor of that.

  30. If you went to catholic school like I did you’ve probably seen more than your fair share of abortion related movies. You’ve probably also seen Sister Act 2 way too many times (twice).

  31. This movie was awesome – I literally cried laughing – and the ending was perfect as is. I fucking hate Piggy though. I was watching Muppets take Manhattan the other day, and the size discrepancy in this one shot of her and Kermit riding in a carriage made me realize that Kermit’s a feeder. It’s just creepy.

  32. “Okay, Nic would do more Mick Jagger poses, and get Kermit to mimic him too, I’ll give you that.”
    He’d also be perfect for Sesame Street, teaching the ABCs and how they make filing simple.

  33. He’d also teach them valuable lessons about fire safety as he held up Elmo’s charred corpse and repeatedly asked “How’d it get burned?” until they got it right.

  34. Are Statler and Waldorf in this movie?

  35. Ace Mac Ashbrook – Yup. Too bad they can’t get out. OH HO HO HO!

  36. I think there ought to be a legitimately recognized art form in nostalgia. It is a phenomenon that exists and should be able to be done well like anything else, and appreciated as such. Of course there’s lots of bad nostalgia bringing the movement down. Funny, The Simpsons just did an episode about Krusty nostalgia. I find it some kind of meta that a show that’s been on for 22 years is satirizing the nostalgia movement.

    I also think the framework should not be overlooked. A kid growing up different and recognizing people like him on TV and finally getting to be with them where he belongs, that’s a relevant issue and a valid vehicle for looking back.

    Also, it’s not like there weren’t five new original songs, plus Muppet covers of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Forget You. So they also sang Rainbow Connection, in a phenomenally awesome new musical arrangement by the way.

    I mean, if Arnold doesn’t say “I’ll Be Back” in The Last Stand, won’t that be a disappointment?

  37. Was anyone else bothered by this film’s total lack of speaking roles for minority actors? I noticed in the first five minutes that they kept cutting away to Black and Brown faces for reaction shots…but they never spoke. The first non-lily white ‘character’ in the film comes about twenty minutes in when two Engrish-speaking Chinese tourists, who are of course defined by their love of flash photography, ask if the Jim Henson’s Studio tour is Universal Studios. Yeah. The next Black or Brown person who gets to open her mouth is Whoopi Goldberg at SEVENTY-THREE minutes into the movie. She basically shows up to say, “Hey, I’m Whoopi, this is Selena Gomez. There’s also a heavyset Latina woman whom we don’t know who came along…”

    There are literally NO Black or Brown characters in this movie. And it’s set primarily within a few blocks of Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles. Now, I hang out there (and rap on the street corner with other kids sometimes) pretty regularly, and lemme tell ya…it ain’t full of white folks.

    Furthermore, the villainous Moopets are all darker colored variants on hero Muppets and are all decked out in stereotyped hip-hop garb. Then, Chris Cooper does a rap song where the joke appears to be, “Isn’t it funny to see an uptight old white guy rap?!?” (I would argue yes, because it’s Chris Cooper, but in the larger context of the film it’s still somewhat off putting).

    Then, in the end, Walter learns that he should, ‘Be with his own kind’ which is intended as a sweet message about finding your place in the world…but instead it comes off as a pro-segregation moral.

    I could go further, but I’m pretty sure you all already think I’m crazy. But there is seriously something rotten in Denmark.

  38. “I also think the framework should not be overlooked. A kid growing up different and recognizing people like him on TV and finally getting to be with them where he belongs, that’s a relevant issue and a valid vehicle for looking back.”

    This is exactly why the overt racism of the casting of this film (the filmmakers knew enough to keep throwing Black and Brown faces into the film so as to hide the fact that there were no Black or Brown CHARACTERS) is so egregious.

    Also, I know that Rashida Jones is multi-ethnic, but let’s be honest; she passes. I would wager that 90% of people who see her in a movie or tv show assume she is White. The other 10% are confused about how she came from Quincy Jones. I’m not legislating her ethnic identity, or making any judgements about her, or even stipulating that she should ‘identify’ with her Black heritage in any specific way, (fuck one drop philosophies!), but I’m betting that if she dropped an N-bomb in casual conversation, most people would look at her sideways.

  39. Chopper Sullivan

    January 2nd, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    I don’t know what it is, Vern, but your spammers have a poetry to them.

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  41. First song from MUPPETS MOST WANTED released today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe__IOI7yEw

    We might have another winner on our hands. (That line about TOY STORY 4 was gold.)

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