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Jack Pelling

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Review - The Muppets

Posted: 24/01/2012 14:44

Nostalgia is a very effective marketing tool. Over the last few years we've seen many much loved cartoon characters of yester-year resurrected and given the 3D/CGI make over. These movies are aimed at the embittered 40-somethings whose souls have been crushed by the weight of the world, but think they can escape the drudgery of bath-time and nappy changing and get some well deserved peace and quiet with a trip to the cinema.

Let's not forget that it's the parents who cough up the popcorn-chokingly extortionate amount it now costs to take a family to the pictures, and if they can be offered the chance to slip into a regressive state of childlike bliss in the company of an old favourite like Garfield or Yogi Bear, they will jump at it, right? Wrong, because all of these movies have been produced by venal, money-grabbing studio bean-counters who would quite happily rip out your eight year-old heart and wring it out in front of you whilst masturbating over the 3D image of Yogi slowly bleeding out in a bear-trap for the chance to get their hands on your hard-earned cash.

Thank god then that the long overdue Muppets reboot has been crafted by a team with the upmost love and respect for the Jim Henson legacy and the original show which still holds a place in the hearts of an entire generation.

The Muppets' return has been helmed by writer, star, and super-fan, Jason Segal, and his admiration for Henson's universe is instantly palpable. In an inspired move, Flight of The Conchords co-creator James Bobin has been given directorial duties, and with him comes Bret McKenzie, whose beautifully irreverent song writing will be instantly recognisable to Conchords fans, whilst fitting the vaudevillian style of the 70's TV show perfectly.

Segal plays Gary, a resident of Smalltown who lives with his inexplicably felt-covered, muppet brother, Walter. When Gary and his fiancée, played by the never-more-adorable Amy Adams, plan an anniversary trip to Los Angeles, Walter plays third wheel and tags along for the chance to visit the hallowed turf of the old Muppets studio, only to find that the now derelict site is about to be purchased and destroyed by an evil oil baron, the knowingly named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Cue the start of an intentionally cliché riddled race to raise enough money to reclaim the Muppet name by "putting the old gang back together". The decision to travel such a well-beaten track may sound like lazy plotting, but with the incomparably high gag-rate and a script that not such much breaks down the forth wall as smashes it into microscopic pieces, Segal and co-writer Nicholas Stoller have brilliantly found a way to satirise the over-familiar plot devices whilst simultaneously utilising the inherent effectiveness and simplicity they provide.

After the franchise fell spectacularly off the rails with 1999's Muppets From Space, the tone of this movie is much more in the vain of the original variety show, and is all the better for it. All the characters we know and love are there, and there are so many celebrity cameos that you could construct a drinking game around it. The central gag of the wonderfully self-aware screenplay is that the Muppets have become an anachronism; outdated and unwanted by the modern audience and its penchant for trashy talent shows and brainless reality TV.

If there is a potential flaw in the film, it is that the barrage of jokes about New Coke, noisy modems and 70's pop culture may be lost on the younger audience members, but there is more than enough to keep them entertained.  The new characters are all instantly loveable, with Walter stealing the show in its denouement and Segal and Adams helping to drive the plot while Cooper plays the pantomime villain with aplomb. The star of the show remains our central pair. Quite how a green piece of cloth with ping-pong balls for eyes captured our hearts remains a mystery, but if you're of a certain age and you're not tearing up in reminiscent sentiment when Kermit and Piggy take to the stage to perform Rainbow Connection, you certainly will be by the time the fully formed theme tune finally arrives.

They say that there is only one certainty in life, but I can offer you three more for those planning on seeing The Muppets.
1. You will have a grin the size of a suspension bridge cemented onto your face that wild horses could not remove and be itching to see it again.
2. You will have Bret McKenzie's refrains swirling round your head for weeks and will be overcome with urge to purchase the soundtrack at the first available opportunity.
3.  For a while at least, you will be reminded of everything good-natured, innocent and blissfully bonkers about the world. Jim Henson would be proud.

The Muppets will be released in the UK 10 February

 

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