“It’s Time to Play the Music…”
After a long period of absence from the silver screen, The Muppets are back in town.
“It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time…” for Walt Disney Pictures’ latest musical puppeteering cinematic offering from everyone’s favorite frog, pig, bear, Scandinavian cook, dog, chickens and… things: the Muppets.
Their newest movie The Muppets (an unoriginal title for a spin-off film) never takes itself seriously, but fills its 103 minutes of run time with hilarity and absurdity. The reason I chose to review this film is because it’s a film likely to be seen by, or suggested to, families.
While marketed as a kid’s film, and entertaining enough for kids to be sure, the film’s target audience seems to be more with adults, the generation who grew up watching “The Muppet Show” during its 1976 – 1981 run on television. This is not to say that The Muppets aims for an adult audience in the way that say Shrek (2001) or other so-called kid’s movies have done in the past: filled with innuendo, pop-culture references and bad jokes intended to go over the heads of the youngsters. Instead, this film targets adults by its constant references to Muppet history, and the culture of the 70s/80s. This 2011 revival of Jim Henson’s famous (sometimes infamous) cast of characters has a nostalgic and fun-loving feel to it, and could actually be safer for families than the original T.V. show was.
The Muppets stars Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and Amy Adams as Gary and Mary, two lovers who head off to Hollywood for a romantic trip together; Mary hopes that Gary will propose to her while they’re there. Then Gary decides to bring along his younger brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), someone who looks very much like a Muppet. This is a great opportunity for Walter to visit Muppet Studios, the home of the motley ensemble of singing and dancing puppets, whom Walter has looked up to all his life (in this movie, as in the show and the previous films, the Muppets are not just puppets but actual “people” – just thought I’d clear that up.) While there, they discover that the Muppets have split up, the studios are in decay, and a dishonest businessman by the name of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to takeover the studio to drill the plentiful reservoir of oil underneath the property, as well as cash in on the Muppet brand (this will be addressed later). So the story is set. What unfolds is a mad dash as Gary and Mary work through the problems in their relationship, Walter seeks to find his “place in life” and Kermit the Frog endeavors to do the impossible, (which becomes more and more possible with every sequel and remake that Hollywood puts out) – get the gang back together!
While this film actually has some good points, we need to first look at the problems that this movie has in its worldview, story and aesthetic elements.
First and foremost is its worldview. The Muppets does not deviate from the basic Hollywood worldview, of which Disney has become a major advocate, existentialism/romanticism. Walter, a Muppet in a man’s world, is filled with doubts and angst over where he belongs: an existential plight that has plagued the heroes of the silver screen for years now. He longs to join up with the Muppets because he believes that it’s among their rambunctious ranks that he can truly find happiness, fulfillment, purpose and a sense of belonging. But suddenly Kermit offers him a spot in their approaching comeback show. Now Walter is worried that he has nothing special to offer the Muppets. The resolution to Walter’s troubles comes when he “searches within himself,” “listens to his heart,” and decides to “just be himself” that he is able to participate in the climax of the new Muppet show. This view of the world sees man as the center of the universe; and man’s autonomous, self-discovering decisions as what brings salvation. In this worldview lens, the desires of the heart [which the Christian knows to be “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9)] are seen as the compass for life’s judgments. It also sees as the answer to any “identity-crisis” as simply being who you are, or as the finale musical number says, “We can be whoever we want to be… there’s nothing we can’t do…” This is a viewpoint that, though it is obviously not presented this way within this jolly kid’s flick, presents a world without God, without obligations to His Law-Word, and where purpose goes no further than man, and making man happy. The entertainment industry is the high-priestly order of this system of belief, because the Muppets (i.e. Hollywood) bring man laughter, a way to escape from reality, and humanistic insights into life. But enough on the underlying worldview, there’s more to discuss.
As far as inappropriate content, the old Muppet Show is probably more racy and edgy than its recent big-screen successor. There is a quick scene on a beach in France where beach-goers in the background are wearing immodest swimwear, but they are barely onscreen. Also, in a scene where Tex Richman is causing trouble for our heroes, he sings (or more accurately, raps) a musical number accompanied by showgirls dressed in risqué outfits. Other than these two brief scenes, and a moment where Fozzie the Bear comes onstage wearing whoopee-cushion shoes on his feet, The Muppets remains surprisingly clean – though I hesitate to use that label for any film coming out Hollywood. However, the problems with a film are not over simply because there is little explicit content in a movie.
Marxism is a philosophy and worldview that has infiltrated the major studios, and has held a particularly strong hold on Disney for the past several decades. One key lie that Marxism seeks to proliferate is that all businessmen, and especially the wealthy, are corrupt and evil individuals. Another thing that Marxism seeks to push is an egalitarian society, primarily through feminism. Both of these assertions seek one thing: the destruction of the Biblical family and Christian civilization. While this most likely wasn’t the explicit goal of The Muppets it nevertheless maintains that Marxist mantra in multiple ways. First, in that the main villain is a businessman whose dishonesty is not shocking to anyone and not a unique spin on the character-type, but rather something that has become so common within cinema that it has achieved the status of cliché. The message from Hollywood clearly can no longer be: “this particular businessman is evil”, but has mutated into “all businessmen are evil”. Next, the film gives the limelight to feminism, as did its ancestors, through the character of Miss Piggy. Here is where the film becomes confusing: Piggy is off trying to be her own autonomous woman (pig?), with a successful career in Paris, yet she loves Kermit and so is torn between what she wants and what she needs. Ultimately she abandons her own pursuits to join her lover onstage, but the film gives no condemnation of feminism, and it gives us a wimpy picture of love and relationships as well. Biblical love relationships suffer in this film from the very beginning: Gary is going on a trip alone (aside from his younger brother) with a woman who is not his wife, to whom he has not even proposed yet. Though the question gets popped eventually, this is an anti-committal, anti-biblical depiction of love and marriage.
On the one hand, we must keep in mind that this film never takes itself seriously, and doesn’t expect the audience to, yet it will communicate to them even so.
Why am I so hard on this film? Because it will be viewed by the majority of moviegoers as just a mindless trip down memory lane with a lot of fun, humor, action, explosions, cheesy jokes, and stunts. People, except the small minority of people who are making concerted efforts to be discerning, are going to turn off their brains when they enter the theater or pop in the DVD. It’s a kid’s movie, it’s a popcorn flick – it’s The Muppets for crying out loud! Why read so much into it? Because it is there within the film, and requires acknowledgement and godly analysis or it will influence us unwittingly, which is a huge danger. The very fact that this film is so “harmless” is the reason why I am bringing these things up.
But I don’t want you to have the impression that there is nothing good or enjoyable in this film. There certainly are many appealing qualities to the movie, and even some admirable ones.
While the film, with its Muppet motif of big shot cameos (everyone from Jack Black to Mickey Rooney) and Hollywood-centered plot, obviously glorifies the entertainment industry, the celebrity-driven culture, it simultaneously (perhaps self-contradictorily) portrays a favorable image of the small town where Gary, Mary, and Walter hail from. It is depicted not as a restricting, provincial or miserable place, as so many other films do, instead it is a loving, delightful place where people smile, wave and break into dance together. This is not a major aspect, however, since they leave town for their trip after the first two scenes.
Another incomplete (and again antithetical to its already established worldview), but worthy aspect is The Muppets’ respect for family. Instead of the hateful bickering or rivalry of most silver-screen siblings, Gary and Walter genuinely love each other: they’re each other’s best friend and advocate. Family, friendship, love, and loyalty, are all virtues this movie puts forward: a perfect recipe for a feel-good ending, which is ultimately nullified by its worldview.
The music is wonderful, the story will evoke memories from those who have seen and loved the show, the ending is happy, and overall, it’s not as bad as it could have been. Depending on the age and the perceptiveness of your children, this may be an enjoyable (though not unflawed) movie to watch as a family. Personally, I believe there are other more worthwhile films to occupy one’s time with, but the more enthusiastic Muppet fans will jump at the opportunity to “meet the Muppets” again!
Reviewed by: Isaac R. Arthur, filmmaker and student at Blue Banner Media
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