"The premise is whether or not people still like and remember the Muppets. Well Kermit, we still do. Very much so..."
It's been six years since The Muppets last graced our cinema screens with a new feature film, and over thirty since The Muppet Show aired it's final ever episode, yet under the new guidance of James Bobin, director and writer of hit-comedies such as Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show, comes an element of anticipation and expectancy on witnessing what should be a triumphant comeback for the collective of eccentric puppets.
Walter, voiced by Peter Linz, has been brought up in Smalltown, with human friends and an older human brother called Gary (Jason Segel). Just an ordinary kid, he always attempted to live an ordinary life, yet Walter, quite frankly, is a Muppet. When Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles to celebrate their tenth anniversary, he also surprises Walter in taking him along too, with a trip to the Muppets theatre in sight.
However Walter, a big fan of the show, is left disquieted given the decrepit and abandoned state of the former theatre and studio. He then sneaks into Kermit the Frog's old office, before overhearing businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) declare his intent on buying the Muppets theatre, only to destroy it and drill for oil underneath, that is unless The Muppets can raise $10 million to repurchase the old place.
As the determined trio track down Kermit to tell him of Tex's conniving plans, they agree there is only one way to raise the money and hold on to their beloved theatre; to get the full cast of the Muppets to reunite for one last time and put on a final and spectacular telethon to raise the desired funds.
It's quite a smart way to stage a Muppets comeback, posing as a reunion within a reunion. There is always the risk of seeming too self-obsessed or selling-out when attempting a long-awaited return, yet such flaws becomes mostly avoidable when done so in this way. Ultimately, the premise is whether or not people still like and remember the Muppets. Well Kermit, we still do. Very much so.
Despite predominantly targeting a younger audience, the Muppets have always successfully managed to balance a fan-base consisting equally of children and adults alike. The jokes are often adult-orientated and witty, and this feature has remained faithful to the Muppets tradition, with jokes as dead-pan as they are surreal.
The Muppets also remain traditional in their perpetual use of music, with a host of original songs, all very tongue-in-cheek for the adults, all very "Disney" for the kids. With Brett McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) taking on the role of music supervisor, and with Bobin's direction, the songs have been left in good hands, and the intelligence and witticism proves dividend.
The credentials of the film-makers and cast certainly make a difference, with talented Hollywood stars such as Segel and Adams taking part, the former also co-writing the film. However, upon learning of Segel's involvement, it only led me to expect his character to say something vulgar, or to just get completely naked, before remembering it’s a children's film.
The Muppets have also been renowned over the years for their celebrity cameos, and in this instance they have certainly lived up to their expectations, with, dare I say it, even Jack Black coming across quite well. Other celebrities making an appearance include Zach Galifianakis, Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris and Selena Gomez. Although I've never heard of the latter, which just proves I'm getting old.
The one issue with the Muppets return to film is the inclination to involve every single Muppet ever created. Jim Henson had a plethora of inventive and ingenious characters, many of which are hilarious, but there are perhaps too many to fit into one film, which seems too eager to include every last one of them - feeling almost like an ensemble charity single. A few certainly could have been avoided and not sent a script, such as the weird closed-eyes smiling girl, or Janice, as she's affectionately known.
Yet of course it's always a delight to see Miss Piggy, Animal, Gonzo and the Swedish Chef amongst others, especially when presented in such triumphant surroundings, as The Muppets return is mirthful, gratifying and as good as it's ever been. And whilst a key theme (and song...) within the film poses the question of whether you are a man or a Muppet; I think it's fair to say that in my case, I'm certainly a Muppet.