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"THE MUPPETS"
(2011) (Jason Siegel, Amy Adams) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Musical: A big fan of the Muppets, his adult brother and that man's girlfriend convince Kermit the Frog to reassemble the Muppets in order to save their old studio from a ruthless businessman who wants to tear it down for the oil deposit beneath it.
PLOT:
Gary (JASON SEGEL) and Walter (voice of PETER LINZ) are brothers who've grown up into men, but while the former is a normal-sized human, the latter never got any bigger than his initial puppet size. Accordingly, Walter became a big fan of The Muppet Show over the years and especially its characters with whom he could identify. Now, he, Gary and Gary's girlfriend, Mary (AMY ADAMS), are headed out to Los Angeles to visit the Muppets' old studio and celebrate Gary and Mary's tenth anniversary.

When they arrive, however, they find the old studio in disrepair. Worse yet, when Walter sneaks off by himself, he overhears businessman Tex Richman's (CHRIS COOPER) plans for the place. Unless $10 million can be raised in just a few days, he'll own the property and have exclusive rights to the oil deposit he's discovered exists beneath the place.

Accordingly, the three set out to find Kermit (voice of DAVID GOELZ) and alert him of this issue, but the frog hasn't seen the rest of the Muppets for years. Even so, he agrees with the decision that they must be reunited, and thus the four set off across the country and world to reassemble the old gang.

That includes, among others, Fozzie Bear (voice of ERIC JABOBSON) who's doing stand-up comedy and fronting a Muppet tribute band in Reno; plumbing magnate Gonzo (voice of DAVE GOELZ); former drummer Animal who's now in anger management therapy; and plus size editor for Vogue, Miss Piggy (voice of ERIC JACOBSON).

With time running out, they set out to spiff up the old theater and put on a telethon to raise the money needed to thwart Richman's nefarious plan.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Several years ago we went to a concert featuring one of the popular Beatles tribute bands. It was a fun time as the songs were (obviously) familiar, the recreations of the tunes were pretty close to spot on, and the behavior and banter between the reenactors was good. Yet, there were two strikes going against the overall experience. One, of course, was that they weren't the real thing. The second was that this tribute band had been around so long that they were now middle-aged men playing the parts of the famous group back when they were much younger.

Then again, getting the original members of a popular band back together again isn't always as magical as one would hope. For starters, there's the nagging belief that they might be reuniting because they need the money rather than for the love of playing and performing together again. And then there's the same temporal aspect that bedeviled the Beatles tribute band -- the never-ending forward march of time.

For a lot of us, we remember such groups the way they were back in the beginning. But now they appear before us often many decades older, and those we idolized have grown waistlines, wrinkles, gray hair and, most noticeably, much older than how we remember them. That, coupled with a usually far more subdued stage presence and performance, often means some or a lot of the magic is gone.

But what if, despite the passage of time, some beloved performers from our past didn't look any older and still performed their old hits, shtick and such? Would it be a blast from the past or would it seem sort of sad that the characters never really progressed and became stuck in some sort of time bubble? Those questions and more are addressed in "The Muppets."

As the title would obviously suggest, the film features the beloved puppet characters created so long ago by the late Jim Henson. They had their own TV show in the 1970s through early '80s, various theatrical and TV movies (the first of the former being 1979's "The Muppet Movie," the last of the latter being 2005's "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz"), and enough related merchandise to make even the great Mouse House envious. So much so that Disney bought the franchise back in 2004.

Now, after a 12-year absence from the big screen, they return. Only this time, they've long since broken up, their studio has fallen into disrepair, and a ruthless businessman (a game Chris Cooper) is set to buy the place, tear it down and drill, baby, drill for the crude down below it. That doesn't sit well with longtime Muppet fans Walter (a puppet -- voiced by Peter Linz -- obviously destined to join his brethren later in the film) and Gary (a goofy Jason Segel) who've arrived in L.A., along with Gary's girlfriend (Amy Adams, sometimes quite good and fun, sometimes appearing as if she's headed to the dentist), to see the sights, including the Muppets old studio.

Learning of the businessman's plans, they convince Muppet leader Kermit the Frog to find and reassemble the group, raise $10 million, and thwart the tear-down plot. What follows is a mostly entertaining, sometimes goofy and often funny road trip flick that combines elements from the original film (actually most of them and the TV show) with the plot of "The Blues Brothers" (needing to reassemble the band to raise money to save a building via a big concert at the end).

Along the way, we notice that the familiar Muppets characters (in addition to Kermit there's Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Animal, the Swedish chef and most, if not everyone else) haven't aged a bit. Sure, times and circumstances have changed, but they're essentially the same personas doing the same material. Accordingly, fans of the series will be in hog (actually pig, frog, etc.) heaven, reunited with the characters after a long break and delighting in them doing the old and even some new bits.

It's been 32 years (yikes!) since I saw the original film, so comparisons there have been thwarted by the aforementioned time, but this new version isn't quite as zany as I remember the TV episodes being. That's not to say it's bad or even mediocre by any means. But after starting off in a refreshingly fun and entertaining manner, the pic -- directed by James Bobin from a script by Segel and Nicholas Stoller -- eventually settles into a familiar and comfortable pattern that doesn't break any new ground.

And it sort of ends up feeling like an old band getting together again to perform their greatest hits and routines, including various celebrity cameos (although they're not as impressive as who showed up for the first film, or even the TV show way back when), self-referential bits, and even a reprise of Kermit's "Rainbow Connection," an Oscar-nominated tune that still outclasses the various new songs written for this release.

Those criticisms aside, the film offers up plenty of old-fashioned entertainment and nostalgia to please kids and their parents. That said, I suspect the latter will appreciate the flick more than their children who won't get the references and why the adults are laughing or smiling at certain points. "The Muppets" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 19, 2011 / Posted November 23, 2011


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