I'm Gonna Shoot Straight, You Guys Aren't Famous Anymore: The Muppets (2011)

I heard a variety of opinions concerning the newest offering from The Muppets franchise, some individuals gave it unprecedented praise calling it one of the best children's movies to come out in ages, other called it a disgrace claiming that it did an injustice to the franchise and that Jason Segal had no businesses involving himself in what was rightfully the world of Jim Henson.  I went into The Muppets cautiously knowing better than to let any single opinion cloud my judgment.  Given this though, I would definitely have to side with the former opinions, what The Muppets offers is a fresh take on an old staple of kid's movies and it does so without losing its contemporary audience or its loyal fans of years gone by.  I found myself unusually emotional towards the film, not because it is particularly sad, but because it is so loaded with nostalgia that I could not help to become tied to the story in a very honest way.  Sure Jim Henson's touch is missing to the film, it was going to from the beginning, but with the help of Jason Segal the film and the franchise maintains its exceptional mixture of slapstick comedy and post-modern magnificence that one has always associated with The Muppets.  Not to mention for being a pseudo-musical it has some catchy music, which is a blend of old favorites like "The Rainbow Connection" as well as some new songs, most notably Jason Segal's wonderfully grandiose song "Man or Muppet."  To be fair the film is not for everyone, but it would take a really cold heart not to enjoy some aspect of this charming movie.

The newest addition to the franchise approaches the Muppets traditional plot a bit differently in that it has sequestered all the old Muppets into the background and instead focuses on a new Muppet named Walter, who lives beside his non-Muppet brother Gary (Jason Segal).  The brothers have grown up together avid fans of all things Muppet, although it is made quite clear that Walter has a much stronger connection to the show, given his literal puppet physique.  Walter and Gary live a happy life in Smalltown, where Gary spends a large amount of time with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) as they plan their trip to Los Angeles.  Although Walter is happy, his life is clearly unfulfilled because no matter how friendly or accepted he is it is obvious that he is different.  Gary realizes Walter's pain and despite Mary longing for alone time with Gary, she agrees to allow Walter to tag along for their trip to Los Angeles.  Walter makes it a goal for their first stop to be the now dilapidated Muppet Studios.  Disillusioned by the nostalgia, Walter overlooks the dire state of the studios and sneaks into Kermit's office.  During this, he overhears a plan by wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to buy the studio and drill for oil, thus destroying the studio and any remnants of cultural memory concerning The Muppets.  Enraged Walter bust out of the studio and demands that he and his brother do everything in their power to assure that the studio remains intact.  This process is quite difficult given that it requires Walter to not only reunite The Muppets, but to make them culturally relevant, a task that their agent Veronica Martin (Rashida Jones) notes is almost impossible, without obtaining the endorsement of a relevant celebrity.  After the rather burdensome task of reuniting The Muppets and gaining the unwilling support of Jack Black, The Muppet Show is aired once again to national audiences in the form of a telethon asking American's to raise money for the purchasing of the studio back from Richman.  Richman, however, makes this no easy task and engages in various acts of sabotage throughout the telethon.  When it appears as though The Muppets have gained just enough money to regain their studios an accident occurs, which reveals a glitch in the system.  The Muppets fail to gain the money and the studio is handed over to Richman.  Fortunately for the group, a stray bowling ball knocks Richman unconscious and upon waking he has a change of heart and returns the studio to its rightful owner.  Furthermore, in the process both Walter and Gary come to understand their place in society, Gary being "a Muppet of a man," while Walter is "one manly Muppet."  It is sweet, endearing and an excellent lesson in self-acceptance for all those who view the film.

So after exiting the theater I could not help but be intrigued by how pertinent of a film it was, particularly for its release in 2011.  Leave it to a children's movie to do the best job at capturing the sentiment of American ideology as it relates to this past year.  While I am not a staunch supporter of all ideologies posited by Occupy Wall Street, I certainly shared many of their sentiments as they relate to oppression by the corporate world onto those less fortunate.  This film studies that ideal intensely and places Tex Richman in a role as oppressor and The Muppets as protestors of his oppression.  Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, The Muppets are initially unsuccessful in their revolt and fail to topple the corporate powerhouse, however, when it is revealed that an insurmountable force has gathered to support The Muppet it is apparent that no amount of financial strong arming can overcome their desires.  I mean it is no coincidence that the film's closing scene is inundated with people holding signs with words of support for The Muppets.  It may seem relevant to the plot, but it certainly has a connotation of the many protest signs seen last year.  Furthermore, the film focuses on the narratives of an "overlooked" group, in this case The Muppets serve as this overlooked people, and it is not until they receive the support of those with privilege that they gain relevance.  In this case, it is the seemingly unending offering of celebrity cameos in the film, all of whom join the cause to help make The Muppet name relevant.  It is reminiscent of revolution as far as media coverage is concerned, a protest may make news if it gets violent or large, however, the addition of a celebrity or person of power to a cause almost always guarantees it a media presence.  The film does this and it does it with great poise.  It is a film that is both blatantly and subtly in unison with the ideals of revolution from the past year, and I direct my praise to James Bobin for masking it in a children's movie with such brilliance.  I am now less confused as to why the film has almost a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is a film that is enjoyable on multiple levels and well worth watching with friends.  It is still making its run through the theaters and there is no reason not to jump at the chance to view it in that setting.

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