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Trailer Review: The Muppets

By / Posted on 22 June 2011

The MuppetsIt’s time to play the music.

It’s time to light the lights.

Hey guys, did you know there’s a new Muppet movie coming out this year? There’s totally a new Muppet movie coming out this year. Remember the Muppets? I’m not talking about the god-awful made-for-tv Muppets’ Wizard of Oz – I mean really, remember the Muppets? The original “The Muppet Show” was genuine cutting edge variety entertainment for adults that boundary-pushing celebrities fought to be guests on. Remember the Steve Martin episode where Kermit kept passing on all of Steve’s characters and sketch ideas? And then the first Muppet Movie, with more celebrity cameos than some contemporary award shows, all because they knew it would be irreverent, hilarious, groundbreaking and genius? That’s right, remember the Muppets?

Somewhere along the way, perhaps due to their cuteness and proclivity towards singing, the Muppets veered away from adult variety and more towards family friendliness, eventually being lumped in with “kids’ stuff.” There’s no debating that the Muppet Christmas Carol is poignant, emotional, and possibly the most stirring film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, but the follow-up Muppet Treasure Island was just embarrassing (and can we all just pretend the aforementioned Oz never happened? I’m sure Queen Latifah does). The Jim Henson Company has actively pursued edgy and challenging adult-oriented projects in recent years, including the Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean feature film Mirrormask and Game Show Network’s “Late Night Liars” (the debut project from Henson Alternative), but none of these experiments have resonated with more than a niche audience (of which I am a member). The time has come to make the Muppets relevant again.

Enter Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, the guys responsible for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, one of the most unexpectedly hilarious movies of the past decade, and a film that prominently featured a love for irreverent singing puppets in the form of a “Dracula” musical. Surely those guys can not only handle humorous exchanges between humans and hand puppets but also be charming and clever with over-the-top comedy at the same time. Just the guys to bring the Muppets back to the forefront of pop culture! Bringing back a beloved franchise like this is tricky, though, and the hype train on The Muppets has been rolling for well over a year now. That’s why the ad guys at Disney were clever and released a series of teasers leading up to this week’s trailer (more on those in a minute).

That said, it’s time to get things started…

Oh yeah. That’s the stuff.

The story is that the Muppets must reunite after years of separation to save their old theater (the one used for The Muppet Show) when an oil tycoon threatens to tear it down. The tried-and-true tropes of extended family reunions and charity telethons provide ample opportunity for classic Muppet shenanigans, as well as a plethora of requisite celebrity cameos. The Muppets‘ IMDB page lists Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Black, Katy Perry, Danny Trejo, Zack Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Rashida Jones, Mila Kunis, Neil Patrick Harris, Donald Glover, Liza Minnelli, Mickey Rooney, Alan Arkin, Judd Hirsh, Rachel Ray and Dave Grohl, among others, as guest stars, so expect an absolute riptide of classic Muppet-celebrity hijinks. From the trailer, Segel seems to be in full-on cornball mode, a form we’ve seen work well for him and is sure to play off swimmingly alongside an army of hand puppets in a world that constantly stacks the odds against them. The comedic timing looks to be spot-on, particularly in the car scene, and the Muppets’ long-standing love of the satirical arts is highlighted by these three teasers that preceded the trailer’s release, each of which make light of modern move trailer conventions, all while building excitement for their own feature film:

First, a teaser for the fake movie-within-a-movie “Green With Envy,” an overly-sacharine chick flick with the devastating punch line “are there Muppets in this movie?” Then, a poke at The Hangover, the most pointed-out example of comedy-done-right of the past few years with its own sequel now in theaters and half of its cast appearing in The Muppets. The shot of Danny Trejo behind prison bars grumbling “hey, I’m a Muppet” is almost worth the price of admission alone. Finally, a spot playing off of the summer action blockbusters, primarily Green Lantern, that openly acknowledges the delay of a proper trailer. And yes, this movie totally has the Swedish Chef in it. Glorious.

Segel and Stoller clearly understand what makes the Muppets work and not work. While Christmas Carol was magnificent, the Muppets are at their best when portrayed as outcast characters in their own deranged corner of our world, not as character actors in other stories. No more Kermit the Frog as some other character. Kermit the Frog is Kermit the Frog – emcee of “the Muppet Show” and uncle to Robin. Fozzie is a bad comedian, not a pirate or a merchant or a travelling salesbear. Putting staple Muppet characters in other jobs is only funny because they clearly do not fit in there, so point out how awkward it is and then bring them back to the Muppet theater stage where they belong.

The Muppets looks fantastic because these trailers show how much the filmmakers get it. Nothing could stop us from seeing this opening weekend when the film opens this Thanksgiving.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.