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Can the Muppets, once a close-knit team, now scattered, come back together in time to save their studio from a nefarious plot to demolish it in the interest of big business?
James Bobin directs from a script by Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel, as fuzzy-felt Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) and his human brother Gary (Segel) incorporate a tour of the Muppet Studios into a romantic holiday Gary is taking with his incredibly patient girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). When Walter overhears a dastardly plan on the part of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, relishing his boo-hiss panto villain role) to drill for oil under the Muppet Studios, it's time to get the Muppets back together for one last studio-saving, oil-plot-averting telethon special. It takes the film quite a while to get to this point, despite one delicious joke: "to save time, we should collect the rest of the Muppets in a montage", but you completely forgive the film its pacing issues, such is the infectious joy of the jokes, and of the musical numbers (for which, our thanks to Flight Of The Conchords' Bret MacKenzie).
In particular, exuberant first number, 'Life's A Happy Song', feels right out of a '50s musical - and the attempts to edit around Segel as a non-pro dancer feel downright endearing, rather than as if they're trying to put one over on us. The Muppets themselves, once finally assembled, maintain the complex and elusive mixture of genre savvy satire and distilled childlike sincerity that made them such a smash in the first place with children and adults alike. Even those doyennes of multi-generational appeal, Pixar, sometimes have a hard time getting that balance perfectly in tune, and as for Dreamworks, forget about it. But The Muppets, like all truly world-class entertainers, make it look effortless.
The film's high point is the Oscar-nominated song, 'Man Or Muppet', in which we get to see Segel's inner muppet-self made felt and Walter's inner human-self, who turns out to look an awful lot like the inimitably brilliant Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, made flesh. And it's set pieces like this, along with a smattering of A-grade one-liners, that make this film work, because structurally, it's a bit creaky. The final third in particular suffers from protracted jeopardy syndrome and finishes with a commendable stab at a non-conventional final victory, when, actually, with such a traditional set-up, it might have made more sense to go with the straightforward triumph we're all longing to see. Still, it's a rare complaint that a film on this scale has over-thought its climax, so perhaps we oughtn't carp.
During The Muppets' numerous highlights, movie-going is rarely this much fun. The haphazard overall structure is of a piece with the ramshackle charm of the protagonists, so perhaps doesn't matter too much. This is a film where you want to ignore or forgive the weaknesses and celebrate the strengths.
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