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The Muppets

Gotta tell ya’, it did weird me out a bit. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Man and Muppet living together as brothers, with Walter(the Muppet voiced by Peter Linz)feeling somewhat out-of-place in the human world(shades of “The Jerk”)? A rich, oil magnate(a wonderfully sinister Chris Cooper)wanting to demolish the already dilapidated Muppet studio to drill for the black gold underneath? Fozzie Bear scraping by, and essentially homeless, in Reno while performing with a trashy knock-off group called “The Moopets”? And all the while, Kermit the Frog toils away in a lonely existence at his Bel-Air mansion. It’s a surreal helping of melancholy with massive heaps of nostalgia. The kiddies may certainly enjoy this—but the film is aimed squarely at us Generation Xers. Which is just fine by me.               Co-writer and star Jason Segel(Walter’s human brother, Gary, in the film)certainly seems to be the right man for both of those jobs. His script enhances the sunniness of the Muppets glory days without ignoring the somewhat cynical reality that they just might be past their prime. It’s a screenplay that throws you a lot of deliciously welcome curveballs whenever you get too comfortable with where it’s headed. And his man-child performance as Gary is a study in charming goofiness. Then there’s Amy Adams(Gary’s gal, Mary)—she continues to perplex me with her unlikely balancing acts. After praising her endlessly in 2005, for the astonishing “Junebug”, she’s managed to maintain a resume that mixes dollops of art and commerce. And without ever quite approaching the level of that breakthrough performance again, she’s still managed to garner 3 Oscar nominations—and emerge from her lesser projects unscathed. Even I’m uncertain of whether that’s a criticism or not. And speaking of Oscar, the Best Original Song winner(“Man or Muppet”)is easily the most disarming and unconventional winner since ’05’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”(from “Hustle & Flow”) . Once again—not a bad thing. In fact, it’s wonderfully refreshing.               The basic set-up is simple. Gary, Mary and Walter travel to California for a vacation. While there, a pilgrimage to the old Muppets studio is made for Walter’s sake. After discovering Chris Cooper’s Tex Richman is going to demolish the property as soon as the Muppets hold on it expires, a plan is put in place to raise the 10 million dollars needed to save it. The trio set out to reunite ALL the Muppets to pitch a telethon idea to the television networks. While getting the “band” back together(shades of “The Blues Brothers”)they travel as far as Paris—where Miss Piggy is editing a “plus-size” version of Vogue. After being turned down by every network, they manage to obtain a two-hour time slot on one when a popular show is unexpectedly canceled—on the condition that they find a celebrity host. After kidnapping Jack Black to fulfill that duty, all the pieces are in place for the big Muppet comeback.               Most of this works beautifully. You’ll even get a rise out of a montage use of Starship’s much-derided, “We Built This City”. Plus, they even work in Paul Williams’ iconic “Rainbow Connection” more than once—the first time in a cynical Vegas-style rendition by a burnt-out Fozzie Bear. And Chris Cooper’s “maniacal laugh” is priceless. This is an irresistible family musical with both its heart and its smarts in the right place. Enjoy.         Grade:  B

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