The very best in show

This cel­e­bra­tion of the Mup­pets’ re­turn is end­lessly de­light­ful and witty, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

JUST AS EAST­ERN Euro­pean film-mak­ers used to dis­guise po­lit­i­cal al­le­gories as sur­real come­dies, Hol­ly­wood, aware of cer­tain lurk­ing prej­u­dices, has taken to pre­sent­ing tra­di­tional mu­si­cals as bawdy satires (the South Park films), hen-party flicks ( Mamma Mia!) and fam­ily films (ev­ery sec­ond Dis­ney picture).

This end­lessly de­light­ful, choke-on-pop­corn funny dis­in­ter­ment of the Mup­pets is as per­fect an ex­am­ple of the clan­des­tine tuner as you could hope to see. A brief bar­ber­shop ver­sion of Smells Like Teen Spirit puts the hys­ter­i­cal Moulin Rouge!

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in its place. Less dis­tracted than that an­noy­ing Baz Luhrmann picture, more cin­e­matic than the drab Chicago, The Mup­pets is a near-per­fect trib­ute to – and gen­tle pas­tiche of – the Dream Fac­tory’s in­de­struc­tible tra­di­tions.

In a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally clever move, Ni­cholas Stoller and Ja­son Segel, the film’s writ­ers, ad­dress the po­ten­tially trou­ble­some is­sue of the Mup­pets’ an­tiq­uity in the film’s open­ing sec­tions. Segel and Amy Adams play Gary and Mary, an im­prob­a­bly per­fect cou­ple from some sun-drenched corner of the in­te­rior.

For rea­sons that are never quite ex­plained (and shouldn’t be), Gary’s brother, Wal­ter, seems to have been cre­ated by the same God that de­liv­ered Miss Piggy, Ker­mit and An­i­mal. The dis­placed Mup­pet has, not sur­pris­ingly, de­vel­oped an ob­ses­sion with the once-great, felt-cov­ered vaudevil­lians.

To cel­e­brate his com­ing nup­tials, Gary brings Mary and Wal­ter on a trip to LA where, all go­ing well, they will visit the Mup­pets’ stu­dios and meet the ec­cen­tric stars.

But time has moved on. The Mup­pets’ back-lot turns out to be a crum­bling wreck. The tal­ent has all dis­persed to var­i­ous cor­ners of the world. Worse news fol­lows. A sin­is­ter mag­nate named (de­li­ciously) Tex Rich­man is plan­ning to bull­doze the stu­dio and drill for oil.

What hap­pens in such cir­cum­stances? Why, we put on a show, of course. The three pals set out to get the old gang back to­gether again.

As aghast readers may be aware, cer­tain ma­ni­acs at Fox News have, not­ing the businessman’s im­moral­ity, ac­cused the film-mak­ers of ped­dling a left-wing agenda. You could not hope for a bet­ter il­lus­tra­tion of that me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion’s deaf­ness to even the most blar­ing irony.

Hi­lar­i­ously played by Chris Cooper (he ac­tu­ally mouths the words “ma­ni­a­cal laugh”), Rich­man is clearly a walk­ing par­ody of Hol­ly­wood’s ten­dency to place horns on any pass­ing cap­i­tal­ist. Glance at this week’s largely aw­ful Big Mir­a­cle and you will find Ted Dan­son es­say­ing an evil oil­man who plans to turn all Alaska’s whales into nu­clear mis­siles (or some­thing).

That out­break of satir­i­cal whimsy is char­ac­ter­is­tic of a film that strikes a per­fect bal­ance be­tween self-con­scious­ness and open-hearted sen­ti­ment.

Hear­ing that James Bobin, the film’s di­rec­tor, was a co-cre­ator of the Flight of the Con­chords TV show, the reader could be for­given for fear­ing a ver­tig­i­nous de­scent into know­ing snark. Don’t for­get, how­ever, that the orig­i­nal TV se­ries and spin-off movies al­ways al­lowed the char­ac­ters to break the fourth wall and com­ment on ac­cu­mu­lat­ing ab­sur­di­ties. The spirit of such late-1960s comic anar­chists as Rowan & Martin en­er­gised the Mup­pets’ early ac­tiv­i­ties and con­tin­ues to colour their ad­ven­tures.

All of which dis­tracts us from cheer­ing the gor­geous­ness of the char­ac­ters and cel­e­brat­ing their largely un­al­tered na­tures. Dragged from her po­si­tion as ed­i­tor of French Vogue, Miss Piggy re­mains as ego­tis­ti­cal and li­bidi­nous as ever. Fozzie Bear is still an ur­sine Max Miller. Ker­mit the Frog con­tin­ues to of­fer a voice of rea­son. An­i­mal is still Keith Moon.

If you never cared for Jim Hen­son’s im­mor­tal cre­ations, then noth­ing here will win you over. If, on the other hand, you’re not a joy­less maniac with a soul of an­thracite then you will work hard to imag­ine how this project could have been bet­ter han­dled.

We have only one com­plaint. Why is the pa­tri­otic Sam the Ea­gle so crim­i­nally un­der­used? Those pesky Hol­ly­wood lib­er­als.

Amy Adams and Ja­son Segel among the Mup­pets

Di­rected by James Bobin. Star­ring Amy Adams, Ja­son Segel, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Wal­ter, Ker­mit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, the Great Gonzo, An­i­mal, Statler, Wal­dorf

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