Nostalgia generally not being what it used to be in this era of Hollywood autocannibalism, with its menu of remakes, reboots and adaptations of dusty toys and board games, it comes as a welcome change of pace that the latest revitalization of Jim Henson’s Muppet machine proves to be the exception. And in the hands of writer and star Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and director James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords), this entry pleasantly exceeds expectations, faithfully coloring within the lines of Henson’s world while bringing it into the 21st century. The two men are very, very obviously fans, which automatically puts it ahead of most tin-eared Hollywood efforts to reboot franchises.
The Muppets adheres to Henson’s established formula of a meta-narrative that draws from a deep well of pop-culture references. Here Gary (Segel) and his brother Walter set off to Hollywood to pay tribute to the Muppets at the shrine of their theater. Walter is kind of a fan of the crew, you see, which makes sense, considering that he’s a Muppet himself. Of course, when they get to their destination they find that Kermit and friends have been displaced by time and a villainous 1-percenter (Chris Cooper) who has been setting about tapping an oil deposit beneath the shuttered theater. After a cameo by Mickey “Let’s put on a show, Judy!” Rooney, the boys set off to get the band back together in a mission to save their theater and introduce the loveable characters to a whole new generation.
Most kids today are probably only obliquely aware of the Muppets. It’s their parents buying the tickets—parents who believe that the felt creations were an inherent part of their upbringing and react with howls of protest if they think their childhood is being touched inappropriately. There’s nothing of that sort to worry about here. Segel and Bobin handle the nostalgia with utmost respect.