Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muppets


I'm not sure where you stand when it comes to the Muppets. The more people I talk with, the more views I hear. Reactions range from eager anticipation about the new movie, The Muppets, to complete apathy. Younger folks ask the question, "...who?" For a generation raised on "Pokemon" and "South Park," a movie about puppets feels a bit silly.

It is. That's the point. In a world of cynicism and fear, sometimes all we need is a bunch of puppets--er, Muppets--to make us laugh.

The Muppets follows the pilgrimage of the newest Muppet character, Walter. A huge fan of the classic program "The Muppet Show," Walter's excitement for the Muppets never wanes, even though their fame does. Just like in real life, the Muppets have all but disappeared from the spotlight (a point made very clear by a snarky TV executive's pop culture chart later in the film). Walter travels with his brother, Gary (Jason Segel), and Gary's girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to Los Angeles, partly as a celebration of Gary and Mary's ten year anniversary of dating (!) and partly as a quest to see the Muppet studios. While touring the dilapidated studio, Walter happens to overhear the nefarious plans of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who will tear down the building into order to drill for oil unless the Muppets can raise $10 million to buy the studio. With this important plot point revealed, Walter and company set off on a zany adventure to gather the Muppet gang for one final show.

The Muppets is just plain fun. With numerous song numbers, pop culture references, celebrity cameos, and pitch-perfect wit, even the most skeptical viewer will likely find themselves chuckling. Much of The Muppets is filled with a rich nostalgia, a longing for better times that feel long gone. Even if these characters are brand new to you, you'll get a wonderful sense for who each of them are. An especially affective scene shows Kermit the Frog remembering the good times as he wanders through a hallway of old pictures filled with his friends. This combination of humor and sentimentality struck a chord in my heart that lingered long after I left the theater.

Maybe the most pleasant surprise from The Muppets is its rich theme and message. The Muppets are a band of bizarre misfits comes together to laugh, sing, dance, and foster joy in those around them, shining like lights in a hard and cynical world. Sounds like a great definition of the church community to me. At one point, in a rallying speech, Kermit points out that even if they fail, they fail together. They're a family, especially for Walter, who finds his first sense of belonging as he travels and performs with the Muppets. They have a strong work ethic, a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality as they strive to save the studio. They're also pretty weird, and when I'm being honest with myself, I know that I'm pretty weird too. The Muppets seem to think that's okay.

For a movie viewer whose favorite films are quiet, introspective meditations, The Muppets broke through my filmic cynicism and made me smile. Laugh, even. I'm still humming various songs from the many musical numbers. In a world where much of entertainment feels like the filmic equivalent of fast food--artificial nutrition that offers immediate amusement but no lasting gratification--maybe The Muppets gives us a picture of what healthy escapism could be.

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