One of the things I love about seeing a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse is the pre-show entertainment. So when the time came to see The Muppets, there really wasn’t much question of where I’d go.
Of course, as I walked into the auditorium, a clip from The Muppet Show was playing: Harry Belafonte’s transcendent performance of “Turn The World Around”. With just a few frames, I was a kid again, in that time when the Muppets HAD me with every show.
And when the movie started, they had me all over again…
It’s been a while since the Muppets had appeared in a feature film (12 years, in fact). Times have changed since then; what we expect of entertainment in general, and family entertainment in particular, has changed, and so the franchise has struggled to recapture the magic of that first Muppet Movie and that classic series. It’s one of the new film’s many graces that its screenplay (written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, with James Bobin as director) acknowledges the passage of time and places its characters squarely in our reality.
The Muppet Theater is now a dusty relic, about to be destroyed by an obligatory Evil Oil Baron (Chris Cooper – and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve never seen him like this), and the Muppets themselves have moved on with their separate lives. We’ve forgotten them, and sadly, they’ve forgotten themselves. The revelation of their fates is at once hilarious and deeply poignant, especially when we meet Fozzie Bear again, and see him still reaching for that dream he can never quite achieve. There’s an alchemy at work in these early scenes, a balance of comedy and melancholy, that works on you in ways I really can’t explain.
It falls to our new heroes – Gary (Segel again), Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter (a new Muppet character who fits in perfectly with the old guard) – to reunite the gang, to remind them of what they once were, and to set them off on another let’s-put-on-a-show adventure. From here, the film moves quickly, and captures the Muppet spirit perfectly. Non-sequitur celebrity cameos? Check. Note-perfect songs? Check (thanks to Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie). Random breaking of the fourth wall? Check. It’s all here, and it still works. The audience was having a great time.
But then came one scene, a moment so brief and so perfect that I never even realized how much I missed it. For the first time in 30 years, Scooter opened that dressing-room door and said “Fifteen seconds to curtain.” From there, I was swept up all over again in the true magic and joy of The Muppets, just as I was in watching Belafonte sing. I’m not embarrassed to admit it – reader, I teared up.
If you’re of my generation, you’ll come into a film like this with a certain level of nostalgia, and certain expectations that come with it. And so, while The Muppets is a wonderful film for audiences of all generations, I think it will resonate most strongly for those of us who grew up with these characters, who remember what they were like in their prime.
Because now they are again.
With that, I’ll go. To the reader, thank you for following along once again. I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did, and I’ll see you next time.
And to my old friends, Kermit and Piggy and Fozzie and Gonzo and Statler & Waldorf and Scooter and Swedish Chef and all the rest of you… welcome back. I’ve missed you.