The very first movie I ever saw in theater’s was The Muppets Christmas Carol. Between that holiday classic and The Great Muppet Caper, I can easily say I drove my parents Muppet crazy in the process of wearing out our VHS copies of those films. The antics of Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and (for young Don Saas) especially Gonzo kept me entertained for countless hours. While my tastes have certainly evolved since the days where Mary Martin’s Peter Pan and Fantasia accompanied the Muppets as the height of personal entertainment, I’ve never completely outgrown my love of Jim Henson’s most long lasting creation. For a franchise that introduced me to Michael Caine, fourth wall breaking comedy, the perils of being green, and of course the heckling of Waldorf and Statler, it’s long lasting effect on my appreciation for both absurd and sardonic humor can’t be overstated. While the series last entry (nearly a decade ago), Muppets in Space, isn’t quite as memorable as the earlier films and the television show, it is with great joy that I can report the newly released, The Muppets, is a resounding success that combines the wonderful nostalgia of a franchise that’s nearly 30 years old with fresh jokes that will have you rolling in the aisles.

The film centers on brother’s Walter (Muppet) and Gary (Jason Segal). Walter and Gary have been life-long fans of the Muppets, especially Walter who sees kindred spirits in these puppet celebrities. Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) plan a romantic getaway to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10 year anniversary as a couple, and they bring Walter with them so he can visit the fabled Muppet studios. When they arrive in LA, the trio discovers that Muppet Theatre is a ramshackle shell of its former self, and it hasn’t been used in years. After slipping away to explore Kermit’s abandoned office, Walter stumbles upon a plot by oil baron Tex Richman (Oscar winner Chris Cooper) to purchase the abandoned lot to tear it down and drill for oil. Now, it’s up to Walter and Gary to round up all of the Muppets for one last show to raise $10 million in order to save the studio. With cameos from Jack Black, Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris, Alan Arkin, and many others, you get a star studded comedy musical that’s as much fun for the adults as the kids.

This film elicited tears on two separate occasions. Once, I was crying simply because I was laughing so hard. Without wanting to ruin the joke, the series manages to incorporate two songs in a row from sources that may seem as incompatible with children’s humor as Tupac or Biggie. When the first song began, it took me nearly a minute for the first song to register but when it finally did, the laughter didn’t die down until the second song was over. As to the second time I cried, it was related to the emotional depth the film portrayed. While I would never put the dramatic storytelling in this film on the same level as recent classics such as Up or Toy Story 3, I certainly found myself quite attached to series newbie Walter, even more than I cared about some of the B-List Muppets in this film like Rolf, Animal, or Scooter. Similarly, Kermit’s emotional journey throughout the film was as genuinely compelling as you could hope to get from a children’s movie, and while it wasn’t the most complex tale, I found myself legitimately involved in the Muppets triumphs and tragedies.

The film’s original musical numbers were a little more hit and miss than the jokes and characterization. I sincerely enjoyed some (especially the wonderful cameo by Jim Parsons as Gary and Walter sing about whether they are men or Muppets) and the pleasure of seeing the whole crew do the opening number for the Muppets TV show was great. However, too many songs just seemed like an opportunity for Amy Adams to show off her admittedly beautiful voice and didn’t contribute enough to the actual action on screen. Kermit sings a number at his house though as he ponders the lonely state he’s found himself in the last couple of decades that is just heartbreaking. This can be an incredibly sad children’s movie. I saw this with my little sister and I lost track of how many times one of us would turn to the other and say how depressing any given scene had become. That’s part of what makes it great though. Rather than insult children’s intelligence like so much of what is fed to them these days, The Muppets provides sincere emotion and life lessons along with the outrageous humor.

For anyone who prides themselves not necessarily on being a kid at heart but at least still being able to enjoy the childlike sense of wonder and innocence when you watch something like The Iron Giant or Where the Wild Things Are, then The Muppets is the first top rate children’s movie to come along since Toy Story 3. It’s not perfect, and at no point did I find myself completely wrecked with convulsive sobbing as I do every time I watch Up‘s prologue or Toy Story 3‘s final moments, but this is still the Muppets franchise at its best in decades. The absurd and often surreal humor that are the series hallmarks are on full display, and I’m almost willing to say that this movie will be even more enjoyable for the parents in the audience than their children. I found myself magically transported back to the little child who knew every scene from The Great Muppet Caper by heart, but with a new found respect for the clever puns, parodies, and sight gags on display in nearly every second of this film. Young or old, Muppet fanatic or neophyte, this film deserves your attention.

Final Score: A-

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