The Muppets (2011) Review

Wherever he is, Jim Henson is shedding tears of happiness. His Muppets, as gleeful, playful, and as frantic as ever, are still relevant. There’s little doubt that their return as portrayed in the film is not that indifferent from the reality. Demographics show non-interest, and major studios turning the idea of a return away. The end result for The Muppets is a massive middle finger pointing at anyone who doubted the potential.

In the Muppets idyllic world, people still sing and carry on energetic dance numbers. They still laugh at the absurdity of the creation, and indulge in their ability to entertain. Situated amongst stunning puppetry are Jason Segel and Amy Adams, as charismatic as they can be, and hilariously self-aware. Segel’s brother here IS a Muppet, which makes one wonder what mom did during the pregnancy…

Watching this menagerie of color, catchy tunes, and wholly inoffensive storytelling almost makes you feel guilty. After all, whose attention didn’t divert from the Muppets as they grew older? The entire nostalgic viewing audience is just as guilty for causing the Muppet Show theater to become decrepit. We can make up for it now by introducing another generation to their wonder, and Jim Henson’s work.

Say what you will about The Muppets failing to generate a story unseen; you’re missing the point. The film knows all too well who it’s playing to, riffing on the simplicity of the evil landowner (also an element of prior Muppets features), played with utter disdain by Chris Cooper. His Tex Richman is the one who grew up but refuses to acknowledge the greatness of the Muppets or their ability to entertain in adulthood. It doesn’t get any more evil than that.

The film pushes forward not necessarily for story but for genuine, heartfelt joy. The build to the return of the Muppet Show, complete with redone introduction and spacious theme, is handled deftly. There’s excitement in knowing it’s coming, but just as much energy from watching the build-up. A string of catchy and priceless campy numbers, including “Am I a Man or a Muppet,” are pure brilliance.

There’s also something in seeing this happen, at times totally sans green screens. Even when implemented, visual effects are subtle, the life given to these often simple creations pure magic when on screen. When computers aren’t blending multiple Muppets together, it’s a wonder how they pulled it off without aid. The talent goes well beyond the visible screen.

Appreciation for puppetry or not, The Muppets is an ensemble success. Cameos bring back the vibe of the classic episodes, and show Hollywood-wide support for a project most of the actors were certainly familiar with in their youth. They’re not much different from the rest of us after all. We’re all infatuated with the Muppets.

Movie ★★★★★ 

Undoubtedly the best the Muppets have ever looked, the realm of digital presents their fuzzy hides (skin? Fur?) with immaculate definition. From the hair on Ms. Piggy to the simple cottons of Kermit, definition is never lacking. Even amidst some intentionally foggy (froggy?) dream sequences, the texture of the live action puppets is meticulous.

Employing the use of next-gen Red One cameras, the black levels still remain the downfall. Interiors, especially as the Muppets first arrive back inside the theater, dim and expel the depth found elsewhere. The image simply flattens out, a distinct difference from the spectacular dimensionality found during those bright, daylight exteriors. From the dance numbers to the stage show, blacks hold firm. Those few lapses are unfortunately off-putting.

Those vividly colored creatures, the likes of Animal for example, prove striking given the hearty saturation. Primaries are superb, rich and dense without being overdone. Color timing remains natural, flesh tones allowed to breathe without being suffocated by warmth. The material, shocking no one, is still appealing without making the actors (yes, the real ones) look burnt.

Other decisions are done to make this appear softer or overly inviting, namely some mild smoothing applied to the likes of Amy Adams. Medium shots certainly make it evident, but so do a number of close-ups. Where as the likes of Segel and Cooper have a number of distinctive, clean, and natural moments in close to the lens, Adams is intentionally snubbed. Either it was her request or a means of making it look “perfect.”

Video ★★★★☆ 

Songs spring to incredible life with this DTS-HD 7.1 mix, capturing the clarity and peppy energy that is the hallmark of each musical number. It’s in line with Dinsey’s prior Enchanted in that the lyrics and music combine effortlessly while spreading into each element of the soundfield. Imaging is spacious, pure, and constant.

The Muppets is one of those mixes with a little bit for everyone, with traveling dialogue, retro-inspired memories as Kermit remembers the past, and sorrowful rain that plays up the drama. It’s all placed with precision to spread the surrounds as well as the fronts, creating a full 360 aura of audio.

Muppets even lets stuff blow up with shocking regularity, with Gonzo’s factory scattering debris as well as LFE, and TNT goofs adding to the power. It’s not super-rich or tight, but enough to make a point and add impact to a mix where it isn’t expected.

Audio ★★★★★ 

The extras, unfortunately, don’t offer much in the way of behind-the-scenes, material. However, they keep a steady illusion alive for the kids, plus the irresistible charm of the Muppets themselves. Well, except for the Jason Segel, James Bobin, and Nicholas Stoller commentary. They ruin everything.

Scratching the Surface begins the in-character stuff as a making-of is presented entirely with the Muppets. The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made is pretty lengthy at over eight minutes, and shows the puppeteers keeping character even during flubs. A Little Screen Test has newcomer Walter nervous about his first read through. Explaining Evil is the full version of Tex Richman’s rap, and still just as funny in expanded form.

Eight deleted scenes, spoof trailers, and sneak peeks (Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3? Sold!) are the leftovers.

Extras ★★★☆☆