The Muppets: It's time to light the lights

'The Muppets' just as much fun as they used to be

"The Muppets"
Walt Disney Pictures
1 hour, 43 minutes

I knew that having children would be a series of ups and downs, highs and lows, opportunities -- some grabbed, some lost. But I guess I really imagined it would be the chance to re-experience all the things I loved as a child, but viewed through a new and fresh lens. That's the way it should be, shouldn't it?


But no. Maybe not. Maybe kids don't have any obligation to love the things we loved. And maybe we, or, as my wife has repeatedly pointed out to me, I am putting too much pressure on our son to take part in my nostalgia. Apparently "The Dark Crystal" is nonsensical and boring (that's my reassessment -- my son just quit paying attention). Apparently the giant rats in "The Princess Bride" are scary (I should have seen that coming). And apparently "The Muppets," with the exception of Gonzo's chickens, are just not all that interesting to a 4-year-old. I gave him an out last week because he had stomach flu, but this week the reviews are in. "So, did you like 'The Muppets'?" "Mmmmmm ... no ... a little ... I liked 'Happy Feet 2'!"

Despite that tepid response, "The Muppets" really is a lot of fun, though not quite as good as I'd hoped. The movie opens on two brothers, Walter and Gary, who live in Smalltown, USA. The two are best of friends, despite Walter's obvious differences. Gary, played by Jason Segal, is very tall. And Walter, played by a hand, is very, well, muppet-y. It's appropriate, then, that all through his childhood, Walter's favorite pastime was watching Kermit and the gang on "The Muppet Show."

Now an adult, Walter's dreams are about to come true. Gary, his girlfriend Mary (played with perpetual sweetness by Amy Adams), and Walter are heading to L.A. Really, the occasion is to celebrate Gary and Mary's 10-year anniversary of their first date, but Gary has promised Walter a tour of the famous Muppet Studios.

But all is not well. When the trio arrive at the studio for the tour, they discover that, not only is the facility a forgotten wreck, but an oil tycoon named Tex Richman is taking advantage of a loophole in Kermit's contract and is set to demolish the buildings and the lot in favor of an oil drilling site. Walter overhears, and it's off to find Kermit and the gang. What can they do, except what everyone does in this situation -- put on one last show to save the theater. They need $10 million to save the studio, so it's off across the country to put the old gang back together, and it all works with one notable exception: Piggy. Will she? Won't she? Will Tex Richman spoil the deal? And which celebrities will show up to help put on the greatest show ever? It's definitely worth a watch to find out.

So much works in this new "Muppet" film, from the bottomless cast of old characters, to the music -- which was really good. The Muppets themselves looked great, though their voices were a little difficult to get used to. Piggy sounded perfect, and most of the minor characters were great as well. Frank Oz apparently threw some kind of a fit about the whole thing and is not in the movie, but I very much liked Fozzie and the others. I also liked the storyline. The journey from Smalltown to Los Angeles to Hollywood is a good one.

Unfortunately, there were things about the movie I didn't like, either. For one, the celebrity list, though fun, was noticeably light on substance. Whoopi Goldberg and Mickey Rooney are the biggest cameos, and, with Rooney anyway, that word barely even qualifies. Where were the Steve Martins and the Sandy Duncans of yesteryear? (Again with the nostalgia.) This seemed like a huge opportunity to raise money for very little effort, but for some reason, no one thought to ask. Also, though the movie spends a leisurely time making its way to the theater, the actual final conflict feels a little rushed.

Not to worry, these are minor complaints when it's all said and done. No, "The Muppets" may not be the greatest film since the early '80s, but it does what a Muppet movie is supposed to do. It made me laugh. Quite a few times, to be honest. So what if it feels slightly cheapened somehow? So what if the songs, though good, feel just a little old-fashioned? So what if Fozzie Bear has a nasally squeak? When the Muppets careen and crash onto the scene, who is there to greet them?

We are, and we love it -- just like we did when we were 4. OK, maybe 10 would be better. I'll try again then.
Grade: B+

"The Muppets" is rated PG for cartoon violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.