Less of a reboot than a continuation/homage, the first theatrically-released Muppets film since 1999’s Muppets from Space is a mixed bag of charming nostalgia and cringe-inducing misfires. Recycling the basic premise of the 2002 television movie It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas (that’s the one where David Arquette played an angel and Whoopi Goldberg, who also cameos in the new film, portrayed God), the old Muppet Theater is on the verge of being bought out by an evil industrialist (Chris Cooper) and it’s up to Amy Adams, Jason Segal, and Segal’s brother Walter, a new and ultimately forgettable addition to the Muppet canon, to reunite the now defunct performance troupe and save the day. All of the musical numbers, convention-bending, and soon-to-be-dated celebrity cameos (Jim Parsons, Selena Gomez, and Rico Rodriguez to name just a few) that you expect from a Muppet movie are on full display, but it’s hard to deny that something feels a bit off.
The whole affair has the out-of-time, self-conscious feel of 2007’s Enchanted, another Amy Adams outing that did its best to appeal to discerning viewers of all ages, but ultimately came across as rather obnoxious. Segal co-wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller, the man responsible for the equally atrocious Gulliver’s Travels and Get Him to the Greek, and thus perhaps he is to blame for the myriad of uncomfortable throwaway gags (a Kill Bill parody? C’mon). Most of the laughs won’t elicit anything more than a chuckle, though there are a few somewhat surreal moments such as a barbershop puppet quartet singing Smells Like Teen Spirit while brandishing straight razors (it’s funnier than it sounds). The contributions of director James Bobin and songwriter Bret McKenzie, both Flight of the Conchords alumni, are both noticeable and detrimental. The songs alternate between overly bombastic parody and seemingly insincere detachment (admittedly it’s difficult to read a puppet, though Adams’ discomfort is often apparent). You have to wonder what the Oscar-winning Cooper really thought of his rap song, which, albeit brief, cannot be one of his prouder moments. In any event, The Muppets is a decent family film that respects its history while adding little to it.
The Muppets opens today in Philly-area theaters.