Heart Felt

'The Muppets' returns a degree of glory to the beloved franchise

Writer and actor Jason Segel, along with co-writer Nicholas Stoller, came up with a concept to restart one of their favorite franchises a few years ago, and the resulting film is the clever and consistently fun The Muppets.

The last time the Muppets graced the big screen was Muppets From Space back in 1999. 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 the 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 pingpong-ball eyes, and has skin made of felt—for Walter is a Muppet.

While 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 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 is a lot of singing in this movie, enough to qualify it as a musical. I was a little put off the first time Segel busted out singing, but I got used to it pretty quickly, and actually started to like it. Of course, any chance to see Amy Adams sing and dance is a blessed occasion. That girl is an American treasure. Her "Me Party" number, where 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, half of the mighty Flight of the Conchords. He does a nice job of catching the old Muppet magic with numbers like "Pictures in My Head." Kermit sings this one in the film's best sequence, a hallway scene during which 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 people to tears. (I didn't cry, though. Nope ... I didn't. I totally didn't.)

Director James Bobin (also a Conchords alumnus) re-creates the opening theme and choreography for 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 the little dance that fans have seen so many times.

This is the first Muppet movie on the big screen to not have the involvement of Frank Oz, who has been vocal about his feelings regarding the script. He didn't like the direction in which 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.

Of course, the same can be said for Kermit, no longer voiced by the late Jim Henson. Kermit sounds OK as voiced by Steve Whitmire, but every time he talks, it offers a sad reminder that Henson is no longer with us.

I wish they had done a little better with the cameos. While the likes of Steve Martin and Sylvester Stallone are mentioned and seen in pictures, they don't show up in person. Instead, we get Whoopi Goldberg and Judd Hirsch. Alan Arkin, who did the actual Muppet Show back in its heyday, has a prominent appearance as a tour guide, and Jack Black gets plenty of screen time, but that's as good as the cameos get. Oh, what I would've given to have Steve Martin's grouchy, shorts-wearing waiter from the original The Muppet Movie back for a few minutes.

While it's not the greatest Muppet movie ever made, The Muppets makes the top three. (I like the original and The Great Muppet Caper.) Segel and friends have 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.