Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Review: The Muppets
L to R: Jerry Mahoney, Paul Winchell, and the incomparable Mr. Knucklehead Smiff.
DISCLAIMER: This was my first exposure to Muppets. Before coming off like a raging puppetophobe, it’s been my pleasure to engage in many a warm and meaningful exchange with celebrity puppets over the years. Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd are wooden pop-culture totems, I still know all the lyrics to “The Winchell/Mahoney Show” theme, and there’s even a soft spot for fisted-friends Lambchop, Farfel, Velvel, and pseudo-marionette, Topo Gigio. And don’t get me started on the powers of Knucklehead Smiff and little Bobo from The Errand Boy!
When The Muppets first hit the airwaves, I was at an age where it was hip to reject them. Fans of the show browbeat me, insisting that I research Kermit and Miss Piggy’s past glories. Rummaging through Jim Henson’s sock drawer in search of a few softball laughs? That’ll be the day.
A national institution worth preserving is not worth entrusting to the likes of Jason Segel. Any similarities between Jim Henson’s antron fleece assemblage and hack “screenwriter” Segel’s fleece job, is purely coincidental. No matter his past glories (Slackers is a divine guilty pleasure) and overall likability quotient, Segel has no conception of how to structure a musical comedy. Instead of spreading the numbers out, the song and dance routines frequently logjam, disrupting whatever shot the narrative had at a smooth flow.
The studio gave Segel carte blanche to write a Muppet vehicle and there was to be a plum role in it for him. Segel could have at least seen to it that he had more to do than spend 80% of the picture grinning in the background.
What was Disney thinking? Muppets and failure do not go hand-in-hand; there was no way a reboot was going to flop. Was it simply because real life Muppet-aficionado Segel was the first person to approach the studio with the idea? Did Segel offer to work for free in exchange for a Fozzy Bear costume?
TV director James Bobin’s (Da Ali G Show, Flight of the Concords) flat, overlit aesthetic deadens the film, giving it a stillborn look, as though viewing the puppets through an incubator. Bright lights, brittle colors, forced-cheer, and production numbers lifted from a Dr. Pepper commercial (and backed by a “knitting-needles-through-your-ears” score) combine for a fatal dose of nostalgia.
In the past, there were least a handful of high-powered celebrity cameos to bank on. This time, the best they can muster is James Carville, Judd Hirsch, and Jack Black. And did they have to take Chris Cooper down with them? Not only doesn't he fit the character, for the first time in his career, Copper was an active participant in the awfulness. If you really love your children, prove it by taking them to see Hugo or Arthur Christmas. Anything but this.
Reader Rating: Zero Stars
MPAA Rating: PG