No strings attached

“You know what this script really needs? More jokes about Reno!”

“You know what this script really needs? More jokes about Reno!”

Rated 4.0

Writer and actor Jason Segel, along with his cowriter Nicholas Stoller, came up with a concept to restart one of their favorite franchises a few years ago, the resultant film being the clever and consistently fun film The Muppets.

The last time the Muppets graced the big screen was Muppets from Space back in 1999, a solid 15 years ago. Yes, they took part in the awful The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz for television back in 2005, and that’s all we need to really say about that one.

For this reboot, Segel and Stoller have gone back to the Muppets’ roots, drawing much energy from their 1970s TV show.

Segel plays Gary, a happy-go-lucky guy planning a trip to Los Angeles, where he will ask his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to marry him. He also plans to bring along his beloved brother Walter, who is a lot shorter than him, has ping pong ball eyes, and has skin of felt, for Walter is a Muppet.

Or, at least, Walter has all of the traits of a Muppet. He has never met the likes of Kermit, Miss Piggy or Fozzie the Bear, but he idolizes them and hopes to meet them at their home, Muppet Studios in L.A. Gary, Mary and Walter arrive at the studios to find them deserted. It turns out that the Muppets have all moved on, and are no longer functioning as a group, kind of like R.E.M.

The trio, after finding out some disturbing news regarding an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) and his plans to destroy Muppet Studios and their beloved theater, track down Kermit the Frog in his lonely mansion. They all hatch a plan to get the Muppets back together and put on a show to save the theater, setting the stage for a good old fashioned Muppet road trip.

There’s lots of singing in this movie, enough to qualify it as a musical. I must admit, I was a little put off the first time Segel burst out singing, but I got used to it pretty quickly, and actually started to like it. And, of course, any chance to see Amy Adams sing and dance is a blessed one. That girl is an American treasure. Her “Me Party” number, when she does an energetic dance in a packed diner, is a classic.

Much of the music has been crafted by none other than Bret McKenzie, one half of the mighty Flight of the Conchords duo. He does a nice job of catching the old Muppet magic with numbers like “Pictures in My Head.” Kermit sings this one during the film’s best sequence, a hallway scene where he walks through his mansion admiring paintings of all his Muppet buddies. The paintings come to life, and join him in song. It’s magical and liable to bring some to tears. (I didn’t cry though. I didn’t. I totally didn’t.)

Director James Bobin (also an alumnus of the Conchords TV show) recreates the opening theme and choreography to The Muppet Show, a sequence that will have Muppet fans squealing with delight. It’s a great thing to see those larger Muppets trudge out on the stage and do that little dance us fans have seen so many times.

This is the first Muppet movie not to have the involvement of Frank Oz, who has made no mystery of his feelings for the film’s script. He didn’t like the direction Segel and Stoller took the characters and was, in fact, working on his own reboot of the Muppets. Oz’s presence is sorely missed, especially in the voice of Fozzie Bear, who sounds just a little off.

While it’s not the greatest Muppet movie ever made, The Muppets certainly qualifies as a top three. (I like the original and The Great Muppet Caper.) Segel and friends have certainly shown that Kermit and his pals have a lot of life left in them. Now, let’s make nice with Frank Oz and get Fozzie sounding right again for the sequel.