Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Case for Songs About Rainbows

Of course, the biggest thing about the Muppets in some New Zealand circles is Bret McKenzie's involvement in the musical direction, including writing the very Conchordian Man or Muppet:

The songs are stupidly, catchily awesome, so McKenzie definitely captures the spirit of the Muppets musically.  But does the rest of the film succeed?

All in all, pretty much.  Jason Segel obviously loves the Muppets (though seems to have dismissed Sesame Street and its 40+ years of continuous production and ignored the whole Muppets Tonight experiment when he co-wrote this film) and, as Gary, lead human and brother to the diminutive Walter, he has a ball.  Amy Adams shows that she too is a big fan (and a better dancer than Segel), doing her best doe-eyed girl next door as Mary.  

But the film is not about the humans, despite a magnificent number of cameos: Jack Black is great, though Neil Patrick Harris gets the best line; Kristen Schaal brings some Conchord flavour on screen, though Emily Blunt gets the best female role (reprising her own from Devil Wears Prada) and brings along her real-life hubbie John Krasinski for a non speaking role; and there are Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, David Grohl.  And there were more classic stars as well, with Whoopi Goldberg, Mickey Rooney and Alan Arkin all showing up briefly.

No, even with all these, the real stars are of course the Muppets themselves.  Most of them sound a bit funny, with their original voice actors having moved or passed on, and so they don't feel quite the same as they once did (the purist in me says), but they are classic characters nonetheless.  While Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie get most of the dialogue, and Animal gets most of the Muppet laughs, I was thrilled to see that some of my favourite minor characters (Rowlf in particular, but also Lew Zealand (of course) and Crazy Harry), getting their own few seconds, and the Wayne and Wanda snog session (and that was not misspelled) was hilarious.  But new character, 80s Robot, really tickled my funny bone, ear piercing connection to the internet sounds included.

And most of the humour is on key too, even if the voices aren't quite, and wannabe Muppet Walter is often on the annoying side.  It's all done with so much love and good humour it is hard not to be swept along with the joy that the makers of the movie obviously felt.  At two hours long (including a surprise Toy Story short) there is the room for some draggy bits, and there are some, but the draggy bits don't last too long, and it is on to something more familiar, or else an amusing song.  And there is nothing wrong with that. 

If they had chucked in a scene of Veterinarian's Hospital, then I really would have been in Muppet heaven. 

Verdict:  The Muppets gets most things right, and the kids in the audience laughed loud though not necessarily at the same time as I did.  A reminder of everything we have lost, in many senses (Jim Henson, you are missed), the film is a return to an age of wholesome non computer generated insanity - well, when Wayne and Wanda aren't steaming up the screen anyway.  9 lighting of lights out of 10.

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