Karolyn and I watched The Muppets (2011) at the cabin over Memorial Day weekend. It's a delightful musical comedy. I'm not ashamed to admit that my eyes welled up during this scene:
I chuckled when they cut to Animal and cheered when he got back behind his kit. Keeping me on the edge of laughter, tears and cheers at once was a tone it sustained really well throughout, I thought. The filmmakers wisely kept the story to pretty much, "Let's put on a show." But not just any show: it's a comeback show, a show to save their old theater, which evil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to destroy. It's a plot stumbled upon by young Muppets fan Walter when his brother, Gary (Jason Segel, who co-wrote), and Gary's fiance, Mary (Amy Adams), take him to LA for a tour of Muppets landmarks, which have fallen into sad neglect and disrepair.
Walter, you see, happens to be a Muppet himself, and thus never ages, even as Gary (a stone Muppets fan himself) grows up. Neither brother seems quite sure to which world they belong. There's a nice message about how growing up is about becoming who you were meant to be.
If I have a criticism, it'd be that some of the background muppets (Scooter, the Swedish chef, Lew Zealand, etc.) become just that: part of the scenery. Perhaps it would have been better to have more for them to do, and less Gary and Mary, in whose story (will Gary remember their 10th anniversary? Will he grow up enough to be a good companion to kind Mary?) we're not as invested. (That said, Segel and Adams are so game about laying back in the cut for most scenes, and perform with such exuberant innocence when they're foregrounded, that this isn't much of an issue. They've been given songs by Bret McKenzie, half of "Flight of the Conchords," which are funny, albeit not as memorable as those in "The Muppet Movie.")
So let's put on a show again after all these years, years in which the gang went their separate directions, led separate lives. Piggy has become a fashion designer in Paris; Fozzie is performing in a Muppets tribute act; Rowlf's been just hanging out. Meanwhile, Kermit, retired, walks the lonely halls of his manse in L.A. One hall is lined with portraits of the old gang: his family. He sings a moving song about them, "Pictures In My Head."
And the years between then and now are part of what the movie is all about, for people my age. Watching this movie, I saw myself sitting on the living-room floor at my cousins Jeff & Matt's house in Kalamazoo, watching "The Muppet Show" on a 1970s color TV set.
And during a scene like the one above, when they go into "Rainbow Connection," the music is somehow not so much nostalgia as it is a direct portal, the way the scent of Carmex transports me back through time and space to our 1985 family reunion. (Hey, I had cold sores.) It's not just that you see yourself as that kid again: in a way, you are him again, at least for as long as the song is playing. "The lovers, the dreamers, and me..." Though I confess, the line that hits me the hardest now is, "Have you been half asleep..."
There are some good gags about the gulf between the late 70s and today. Richman scoffs to the Muppets that the world doesn't care anymore about them and their Dom DeLuise guest appearances. His imposter "Moopets" are a bit gangsta: a "hard, cynical" bunch for "hard, cynical times."
I saw The Muppet Movie on the big screen when it came out, when I was around nine. My dad was in awe at the shot where Kermit rides a bicycle. I remember him exclaiming in wonder, "How did they get a puppet to ride a bicycle?"
Me, I'll always wonder at how Jim Henson made a creature like Kermit--so expressive, and with such heart and humanity--out of a green sock, a couple of ping-pong balls, and a handful of magic.