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Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 03:32 pm

The Muppets, a charming trip down memory lane

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Jason Segal has never been shy about his love for Jim Henson’s Muppets. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, his affinity for this form of puppetry is obvious when he composes and performs a musical rendition of Dracula, populated with Muppet-like characters. It’s an inspired moment and you can tell the actor’s heart is in it. Segal gets to indulge himself to the fullest in The Muppets, Disney Studios’ effort to bring Henson’s beloved characters back to the big screen. The actor, who co-wrote the script, is firmly in his element as he gets to share the big screen with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest, while viewers who fondly remember are treated to a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Segal is Gary, a lovable rube from Smalltown, USA, whose brother, Walter, defying all genetic logic, happens to be a Muppet. Both have been fans of the felt wonders for years and they are set to go to Hollywood in order to visit the Muppets Studio. Gary’s longsuffering girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), also makes the trip. The three think they’ve made a wrong turn down the boulevard of broken dreams when they arrive. The studio has been forgotten, is in horrible disrepair and is ready to be razed by Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who’s intent on drilling for oil on the property. However, there’s a loophole in the deed he holds. The Muppets can reclaim the studio if they come up with $10 million in two weeks.

The premise is simple but delightful. It offers director James Bobin the opportunity to take us on a road trip so that Gary, Mary and Walter can round up the old gang to put on a telethon as well as remind us why these characters are so beloved. Kermit the Frog’s home is awash with memorabilia from the past, while his robot servant, invented in the 1980s and still using a dial-up modem to access the Internet, provides us with many funny moments that remind us of these characters’ significance all those years ago.

However, these humorous bits of history are only part of the film’s intent. The other is to introduce them to today’s young viewers, and it succeeds handsomely. Propelled by wry song and dance numbers and a cockeyed sense of optimism that’s irresistibly infectious, the movie sweeps you along with its self-deprecating humor and corny jokes as it gives each of the Muppets their moment in the spotlight. Kermit and Miss Piggy rekindle their romance with the usual sense of drama, Fozzie Bear’s stand-up routine continues to be so bad it’s good while Animal never misses a beat in his wanton destruction of every drum kit he can lay his hands on.

In the end, The Muppets plays out like a pleasant visit from old friends. While they may have been out of the limelight for a while, their status as cultural touchstones has never really waned. This film is sure to accomplish what it sets out to do, as new generations will surely embrace them just as others have.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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