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Muppets, The (Blu-ray Review)

16 Mar, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 3/20/12
Box Office $88.54 million
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 DVD with soundtrack, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 Blu-ray with soundtrack
Rated ‘PG’ for some mild rude humor.
Stars Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper.

The running gag of The Muppets is that its title characters are relics from a more innocent time. Ironically enough, the film’s blast of nostalgia proves the Muppets are as timeless as ever.

The formula for the plot isn’t too complicated. The first half of the movie is essentially an homage to The Muppet Movie, with all the characters getting back together during a big road trip. The second half is a brilliant re-creation of an episode of “The Muppet Show,” with modernized versions of the variety show acts that were staples of the old show (for example, a flock of chickens clucks Cee Lo’s “Forget You”). There are some catchy new tunes and a nice message about self-identity (best embodied in the Oscar-winning "Man or Muppet" number) and togetherness ("Life Is a Happy Song"). Plus there are a handful of celebrity cameos, just like the old days.

It’s a great way to introduce the Muppets to kids, while appealing to the kid in all of us. There are several in-jokes weaved throughout the narrative, and the film brings back some characters who haven’t been seen in decades. It kind of made me want to check out some of the older movies and TV shows.

The Muppets gives maybe a bit too much screen time to the human characters, in particular Jason Segel and Amy Adams as Gary and Mary, a syrupy-sweet couple from Smalltown, U.S.A., who help the Muppets make their comeback. There are also some large-scale dance sequences infused with seemingly simplistic choreography (which just kind of forces you to stare at it in astonishment) that both mimics and spoofs musical theater. Chris Cooper, though, finds just the right tone as cynical oil baron Tex Richman, who wants to tear down the Muppet studio, prompting the Muppets to re-stage their old show to raise the funds to buy it back.

At the center of the story is Gary's brother, Walter, a puppet given a chance to earn his way into becoming a Muppet. Contrast Walter's story with a group of knockoffs called The Moopets, who team with Tex to try to steal the Muppet brand for themselves. The script by Segal and Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) gives the narrative an edgy undercurrent.

There’s more fun stuff in the deleted scenes. One sequence features Billy Crystal showing up to stop the Muppets from staging a sham awards show to snare a celebrity guest for their telethon to save the studio. Another contains an extended version of the Tex Richman rap, fleshing out his backstory and hatred of the Muppets.

The adult-friendly subversive tone carries throughout the extras, such as a behind-the-scenes featurette in which most of the interviews are from Muppets. Another clip, billed as a screen test, shows a few of the Muppets hanging around the production office getting ready for a script read-through. And then there’s an extra-long blooper reel and a library of trailers with the Muppets spoofing other movies from the past few years.

The only thing that’s more or less straightforward is the commentary with Segel, Stoller and director James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords”), who joke about being the unlikeliest trio to make what was billed as a kids movie.

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