‘The Muppets’ is a homage to ’70s films

The poster for "The Muppets"

Keith Kaczmarek, Reporter

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The new Muppets movie is a little too faithful to the long history of Muppet movies.

It’s a fun movie and don’t let anyone tell you differently. It has two decent comedic actors and it has Muppet songs and Muppet jokes. It has everything you might remember if you were a fan of the Muppets when you were eight and you still have a soft spot for Muppets in your heart now that you drive a car and pay taxes.

That’s the problem. It doesn’t take the Muppets into any new territory and it still feels like it was designed and written by mildly stoned hippies in the ’70s. The dialogue still feels stilted and forced and anyone who is not stoned wants the pace to speed up and get to the next sight gag, or next joke or the next song. The choices of locations still have the 1970s lack of imagination and feel like someone spent almost a day to scout and then rented them out with a banjo song and a bag of brownies. Most of the songs are old classics.

Movie making has come a long way in the last 40 years and you just don’t see the evolution here. There are a few shots of a walking Kermit that were obviously CGI and felt extremely jarring with my memories of Muppets, but there really isn’t any evidence that the movie wasn’t remastered from old prints found in Jim Henson’s attic.

Where are the kinds of sets we now expect in a modern movie that are full of life and character? How about a real Hollywood/Broadway dance number that doesn’t look like a flash mob you rustled up on Twitter? Heck, I’d be happy with just some more original songs and not retreads of the old classics.

There is also some real existential darkness in this movie. All the characters, human or Muppet, are questioning their very identities and it’s hard to watch sometimes. (I won’t even go into how the premise of every Muppet abandoning performing for soulless corporate day jobs, vagrancy, neurosis, or third-rate Reno acts is just the set up for their future being stolen by corporate greed. It’s just too on the nose for a country in the middle of the great recession.)

That being said, it’s still the Muppets. There is still a cast of famous actors like Jack Black making hilarious cameos and plenty of laughs to be had. Once the set up for doing the actual Muppet Show has sucked up a substantial section of the movie, you get a hit of pure Muppet magic and you forget all the trials it took to get there. Kids and adults leave the theater humming songs and that’s exactly the effect you hope for when you set out to watch the Muppets.

It’s also fun to see famous comedians and actors taking potshots at themselves in the proud Muppets tradition. It’s a who’s who of “people in Hollywood with a sense of humor about themselves” and I won’t spoil the surprise by naming any names.

In conclusion, my hope is that this movie is just the early stage of a new Muppet revival. The seeds are there, but it still feels a little odd to chastise the Muppets for being too serious and not zany enough. Muppets are supposed to be fun, crazy, light-hearted entertainment for children and adults alike, not a dark and introspective look into the nature of personal identity and self-esteem done in plush and felt.

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