The Muppets Blu-ray
The Muppets have officially made a comeback, aided by lifelong Jim Henson fanatic Jason Segel, who produces and stars in the new sophisticated kids’ flick, eponymously entitled The Muppets, alongside a musical cast that includes Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, a bevvy of celebrity cameos and, of course, the Muppets themselves.
The Muppets, currently out on Blu-ray and DVD, brings the beloved cast of Kermit the Frog, The Great Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Miss Piggy — among other beloved puppets-sporting-an-attitude — to the silver screen for the first time in 13 years, when the Muppets went to space and, many thought, should have stayed there.
This time there’s a new fuzzy friend on the block, young Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), who has always felt a little out of place despite growing up in a highly accepting, Norman Rockwellean human household, where big bro ("big" in both age and comparative size) Gary (Segel) has always been around to support him through the intense anxiety of being a Muppet living as a man.
Being surrounded by humans is just the way it’s always been for Walter, and no one seems to notice that he is smaller, bouncier, fuzzier, and wider-eyed / –mouthed than his corporeal counterparts. In short, no one seems to notice that he is a Muppet. The only indication of Walter’s difference from the giant, fleshy beings surrounding him is his inexplicable and overpowering obsession with Muppet culture, which he soaks up through the ubiquitous Muppet television programming from his childhood — the same programming the rest of us grew up with.
For his part, Gary is the most supportive kind of brother for a misplaced Muppet with identity issues and a stubborn anxiety disorder. So supportive, in fact, that even his saintly girlfriend, Mary (Adams), succubs to feelings of frustration when Gary invites Walter along on the couple’s ten-year-anniversary getaway to Los Angeles, which is also the home of the former Muppets Theater. Add to Mary’s irritation the fact that she’s been seeing Gary for ten years without a proposal, and you have the recipe for a major character conflict.
Despite her predicament, Mary doesn’t allow her exasperation to get in the way of her good nature and genuine positive regard for poor, hapless Walter. After all, he has to contend with being a Muppet in a man’s world. So the three friends are equally outraged when they discover, upon visiting the museum that was once Muppet Studios, that evil oil baron Tex Richman (Cooper) plans on buying the property so he can tear it down and drill for oil beneath. Gary and Mary convince their tiny companion that he must do what is right and find the disbanded and obsolete Muppets so he can warn them about the impending catastrophe.
What follows is a delightfully fresh, funny, and engaging musical that remains unabashedly optimistic without feeling corny or sending the wrong message. The fact is, the Muppets work hard in their battle against Tex, which makes them completely deserving of any victory they attain. Along the way, decisions have to made, fears have to be faced, and unhealthy codependencies have to be sacrificed, but the end result amounts to a job well done and life lessons learned.
Much of this struggle is summed up in the song “Man or Muppet,” which nabbed Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie a Best Song Academy Award. Another perk for Conchords fans: fellow co-creator, writer, and head director of the series, James Bobin, also directed The Muppets. Much of the film’s music, pacing, and humor carry the signature Conchords absurdity, toned down drastically for a younger, more mainstream audience. Oddly enough, the two efforts seem pretty similar when you consider the endearingly guileless protagonists that drive both.
Segel’s genuine delight at having the opportunity to perform opposite Henson’s finest is both palpable and utterly contagious, as he beams with childish wonder that defies the underlying irony that would almost certainly color other actors’ portrayals. Adams’ role, while hardly memorable by itself, testifies to her overall range. It's hard to picture her beating the daylights out of Micky Ward’s sister in "the porch scene" of 2010’s The Fighter while watching her sing and dance to “Me Party" in a billowing skirt and dainty heels.
The celeb cameos in The Muppets seem neverending, demonstrating just how many people have, at one time or another, been affected by the little fuzzy friends. Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, James Carville, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Dave Grohl, and even Judd Hirsch and Mickey Rooney lend their names to the almost endless list. It’s almost worth the price of the Blu-ray alone just to try to spot them all, if you’re in a “Where’s Waldo” kind of mood.
The Blu-ray’s special features also offer deleted scenes, footage of your favorite Muppets doing screen tests, full versions of songs, spoof trailers, audio commentary with Bobin, Segel, and cowriter Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek), a blooper reel that holds the distinction of being “the longest … ever made (in Muppet History),” and a “making of” sequence entitled “Scratching the Surface,” which is described as “a surprisingly shallow but profoundly absurd look at Muppets and humans working together to make cinematic history.”
Segel, Bobin, and friends may have fallen short of making cinematic history, but they certainly succeeded in encouraging scores of adults to revisit the brighter parts of yesteryear while introducing a new generation to a relatively sophisticated cast of tiny heroes and an uncommonly fresh sense of humor.
And, after all is said and done, those Muppets sure are freakin’ cute.