Friday, November 25, 2011

The Muppets

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-1) Roger Ebert (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

The Muppets (Disney, directed by James Bobin, characters by Jim Henson, screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller) is probably one of the least "ideological" of a depressingly large number of ideological "kids" movies made this year.

On the Right there was Diary of a Wimpy Kid II: Rodrick's Rules, the gawd-awful Hop, and Hoodwinked Too (all of which cast/accented the "good" people as Anglos/Americans and the bad/problematic people as foreigners) and possibly Mars Needs Moms (which became almost an Orwellian "Animal Farm" style parable against radical feminism).

On the Left would be the recent Happy Feet II that IMHO continued to be needlessly heavy-handed about global warming. 

Still arguably left of center but at least gentler were Rio and Rango, which both had environmental themes.  But in the case of Rio made by Brazilian-born Carlos Saldanha there was a reminder that the people of Brazil (like the little street kid Fernando) are important too and not just its birds and trees.  And Rango ultimately seemed like a clever cartoon remake of the "hardboiled L.A./conspiracy" classic Chinatown [1974].  Then there was Cars II whose consumerist message "cars are people too" I honestly just don't like.  (NO "cars" are _not_ people.  They are definitely _things_.  I have a similar criticism though less adamant of Pixar's Toy Story series).

The Muppets would certainly fall on the left of center scale by making the story's chief villain an "oil baron" named Tex Richman (voice by Chris Cooper) who wanted to buy the Muppets' Theater in Hollywood to tear it down and _drill for oil_ under it.  But at least The Muppets were goofy enough (a la the Disney classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988]) to make it obvious that they weren't all that serious.  Here I'd add that those reading my blog would certainly suspect/expect that I'd not be a huge fan of "oil barons." On the other hand, I would definitely understand and defend to the end that THEY, "oil barons," are "people too."  So I just wish that The Muppets' makers would have chosen to go the route of Mike Myers/Austin Powers' "Dr. Evil" or Steven Carrell's "Gru" of Despicable Me [2010] where the villains didn't carry any heavy-handed ideological baggage and there were attempts actually to explain _why_ the villains became the way they were. 

So while I fully expected to be writing glowing recommendations for truly great animated children's films like The Incredibles [2004], Up [2009], How to Train Your Dragon [2009], Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs [2009], and, yes, Despicable Me [2010], this year has been a real disappointment to me when it comes to children's movies.

Still I do believe that The Muppets in their goofiness and inspired play of the human boy friend/girl friend couple Gary (played by the film's co-writer Jason Segal) and Mary (played by Amy Adams of Disney's Enchanted/Giselle fame) were better than most of the children's movies of this year.

To the plot ... Gary, grows-up with best friend Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) in Small Town somewhere in the American Midwest.  When they were kids, they were peas in a pod.  But as they grow-up their differences begin to show.  Gary after-all is human and Walter, well, is a Muppet.  Still Walter could not have a better friend than Gary, who sticks by him through thick and thin, and even makes a decision to take Walter along with him on his and Mary's trip to Los Angeles.  Gary is going on the trip with Mary because he wants to propose to her, while Walter thinks that they're going on the trip so that they could (finally) see the Muppet Theater, Museum and so forth.  So problems inevitably ensue between Walter (Gary's BFF) and Mary (Gary's girlfriend and soon, as both Gary and Mary hope ... if all goes well, wife ...).

Things get even more complicated when to Walter's terrible disappointment, the three arrive at Hollywood's Muppet Museum/Theater and find it dilapidated and about to be sold to above mentioned villain "oil man" Tex Richman.  This sets off an adventure as the three first seek to find Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmore) and then the rest of the Muppet gang to try to save the Muppet Theater/Museum.

Much of course ensues, often very, very funny ;-).  But in the midst of this an exasperated Mary also decides to put her foot down: "Gary, are you a man or a muppet?"  And Gary has to decide.

This becomes a very nice movie about both respecting friends _and_ understanding that in the end, one's spouse (if one wants to ever find a spouse) has to come-out ahead of them.

So it turns out to be a great and zany story.  I just wish they didn't have to _needlessly_ bring "Big Oil" into the tale at all ...

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  1. Longtime Muppet fans will undoubtedly have more fun than young ones, but for the most part, it's a witty, delightful romp, that shows you that you can still be funny, without ever being mean still in 2011. Good review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

  2. Fr. Dennis, I have to disagree with you on the political aspect. The conceit of the film is that the Muppets have to save their old theater from the machinations of the villain. Does it really matter whether that villain wants to destroy the theater to drill for oil, or build condos, or plant a rain forest? It's an excuse to put the plot into motion of getting the old band back together. I think you might be reading a little too much into the motivations here, and certainly the secondary audience this is aimed at (i.e. kids) aren't going to pick up on the "Big Oil is evil" context that may or may not be there. Mostly I think that the oil drilling aspect is mostly there to create a character (Tex Richman) rather than to send a message. Good review!

  3. Hi Carlos, thanks for your comment! Yup, I don't know if kids would get the "Big Oil is evil" message. But I just don't like it when even the attempt to influence kids like this is made. During the Soviet era all kinds of "Kulaks (rich people) are bad," movies were made aimed at little kids who wouldn't even know initially what a "Kulak" was. The Nazis then made similar "money grubbing Jews" movies as well. Does this kind of propaganda even work? I don't know. But I just feel that in as much as possible kids should be left alone and not _be taught_ "who to hate." As I write this, I wonder if "teaching kids to hate" ought to be seen as another kind of child abuse, for it _also_ steals children's innocence. But like you, I also wonder if kids even catch the "hate this person (for this reason)" message.