Green and on the Screen

Last week, I wrote about our visit to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a show that one attends for the entertainment value, not any significant or heavy plot. Today, as we’ve been orphaned for Thanksgiving, we decided to break with tradition and go see a movie: “The Muppets“, which opened yesterday.

Now, I have a smart spot in my heart for the Muppets. Growing up, The Muppet Show was one of those TV shows that appealed to my sensibility. It was a little bit Broadway, a little bit pop, with the right level of subversive and out of the box humor to appeal to my warped sense of humor. The early Muppet movies were good (and I always enjoyed the subversive nature of Muppet Classic Theatre), but later ones lost their way. Especially after the death of Jim Henson (so young), Disney just didn’t seem to know what to do with the Muppets, and they languished, forgotten and neglected.

I’m pleased to say that this movie confronts that issue dead on. As the movie starts, we meet Gary (Jason Segal), Mary (Amy Adams), and Gary’s brother, Walter (Walter, in a stunning debut). Gary and Mary are going to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10th dating anniversary, and they decide to bring Walter along to see the home of his heroes, the Muppets. Alas, when they arrive, the Muppet studios are derelict, and the Muppets are spread across the continent. The studio is about to be sold to a developer who wants the land for its oil. They only way to save the studio is to raise $10,000,000 by an artificial deadline, and the only way to do that is to reunite the Muppets. From this setup, the movie moves steadily to its goal: first the race to find and reunite everyone, and then restoring the theatre and putting on the Muppet telethon, all the while dealing with the bad guy, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) (insert maniacal laugh). As one with expect with this being a Disney movie, the theatre is saved, but that is the least of the story line.

The movie is full of vintage Muppet humor (and that includes old jokes, wocka wocka). It includes self-referential humor. It includes lots of singing and dancing (this really is a musical, folks, but what did you expect?). It confronts the issue of what happened to the Muppets with humor straight on—it acknowledges that today’s audiences are believed to have moved beyond the basic humor that were the Muppets. It also provdes that belief wrong—it demonstrates that intelligent humor, singing, and dancing are more entertaining than fart jokes. Don’t believe me? Just look at where the box office receipts are going: The Muppets vs. Jack and Jill. Good humor and good writing will always win.

The performances were excellent. Jason Segal has lovable schlub down to a science, although it was unnerving to see him on the big screen. Amy Adams was back in the Enchanted-groove, with very strong singing and dancing (I had never noticed how muscular her legs are). Chris Cooper made a good evil guy, even if he couldn’t laugh. Jack Black, playing Jack Black, was very Jack Blackish. As for the Muppets themselves: the current voice talent is pretty close to the original, and the new writers generally had the characterizations right. Walter is the only new Muppet, and he never realizes he is a Muppet until the end—this is the basic conceit of the Muppet world: that they are no different than anyone else in the world. As would be expected, there are loads of cameos—I won’t mention them so as not to spoil them.

Not surprisingly, the movie does have some adult themes. The basic question the movie addresses is “What is our purpose in life?” For Muppets, that is clear that their purpose is to entertain; that is where they are happiest. Until they discover (or should I say, re-discover) that truth, they were doomed. There is also the question of finding out what we really love, and putting that love in our life with the correct importance. Love has always been a central theme in the Muppets; in this movie, there is not only the love between Kermit and Piggy, but the love between Gary and Mary. Both must be acknowledged for the world to be whole.

I truly hope that this movie creates a Muppet resurgence. I understand that NBC has requested a pilot for a new Muppets show. I’m hopeful, but this is NBC we are talking about. The Muppets are good, but I don’t know if they are strong enough to save the network (further, I’m curious why ABC isn’t doing the pilot). We need the Muppet’s brand of humor these days, and we need to bring back real variety shows.

Mahna Mahna.

Previews: Just a few previews. The first was for “Brave“, which looks to be a good girl-empowerment movie from Pixar. We’ll probably see it, but not in the theatre. The second was for a Japanese-style remake of The Borrowers called “The Secret World of Arrietty“. This uses traditional animation and will likely be good; however, I don’t think it will be a strong success at the box office just because of the nature of the typical audience. The third preview was for “Mirror Mirror, another comedy-fantasy based on Snow White that seems to focus on women-empowerment. Looks good, but Julia Roberts appears miscast. The last preview was for “Paranorman, which seemed out of time. This looks to be a good Halloween movie, but is being released in August, and previewed in November a year before. Perhaps they are trying to build word of mouth, but I’m not sure it will be successful, although they might pull a “Nightmare Before Christmas” out of it. From the folks that did Coraline.

Future Movie Plans: We plan to see a movie on Christmas Day (and have Chinese food); I’m not sure which one yet. Who knows… if Puss and Boots is still in the theatres we might see that; I’ve also heard good things about “Hugo“. Looking at the December releases, not much screams out: there is Carnage, but we are seeing the play in January, and I’d rather see the play first. “The Iron Lady” is a possibility, but I want to see the reviews. “Tintin” is another, but again I want to see the reviews. As for theatre… this weekend brings both “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson and “The Graduate” at REP East. For the rest, look at the bottom of the Chitty review.