Instead of shying away from obsolescence, The Muppets embraces it as a starting point. Co-written by and starring Jason Segel, its champion in the press for the last two years, the film begins with Kermit and the gang estranged from one another, having moved on and accepted their has-been status.
Our hero Walter is the troupe's biggest fan, and his puppet status goes charmingly unacknowledged, as is par for the course. The fact that the human characters rarely notice that the Muppets are puppets (and moreover, talking animals) has served as a running source of humour for the ensemble.
Walter and his ridiculously implausible human brother Gary (Segel) visit the dilapidated Muppet studios with Gary's lady friend Mary (Amy Adams). Walter overhears Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil tycoon literally incapable of laughter, discussing a secret scheme to demolish the property and drill for oil beneath, while he publicly promises to turn it into a Muppet museum.
The trio bring their harrowing news to Kermit, who agrees to take the reigns in coordinating a Muppet reunion, with his trademark awkward reluctance. They proceed to pick up Fozzie Bear, now performing with a Muppet tribute band known as the Moopets (featuring Dave Grohl as Animool); then Gonzo the Great, now CEO of a toilet business; and even Miss Piggy, presently a fashionista at Vogue Paris. Together again, the gang convince TV exec Veronica (Rashida Jones) to air a Muppet telethon, and must scramble to pull a show together in time to stave off Tex's greedy plan.
Despite the recent public misgivings of one Frank Oz, a Muppet mainstay as a film director and lead puppeteer since almost the beginning, the filmmakers have managed to capture the essence of the Muppet legacy with charm and grace.
Throughout the picture, original song and dance numbers, along with renditions of classic songs like “Rainbow Connection” and “Mah Na Mah Na,” make for a bona fide musical.
The catchy tunes recall the innocent, all-ages joy captured in the Muppets' first feature, and even in the original Muppet Show. They also help secure Adams’ triple-threat status, after her first Disney-musical starring role in the 2007 picture Enchanted.
Thanks in large part to Sesame Street's child-focused mandate, most will forget that the Muppets' original prime-time slot in the mid-seventies spawned from appearances on the first season of Saturday Night Live. They were a vaudeville comedy act first, family-friendly entertainment second.
This is not to suggest that the racy or tasteless lurks beneath the surface. The Muppets stay true to their penchant for light-hearted irony and meta-fictional malarkey. In a single stroke, the film appeals to your sense of humour, intelligence, and humanity.
The bountiful cameos (Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, and Feist, to name only a few), along with a delightful Toy Story short that prefaces the picture, are the icing on the cake, leaving us hoping that the Muppets' return to centre stage lasts longer than 98 minutes.