Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang are back – and they still pull the strings

The Muppets (U)

Verdict: A super surprise

Wistful, silly and adorable, The Muppets is a wonderfully entertaining musical comedy aimed primarily, and unashamedly, at adults who grew up loving the foam and felt Muppets long before Pixar came along with computer animation.

I’m not sure if such primitive puppetry will appeal as much to modern children. They won’t have the faintest idea who Kermit or Miss Piggy are, let alone Animal or Lew Zealand the boomerang fish thrower, but I hope this movie will bring these talented artistes back to the forefront of the entertainment industry. It deserves to.

Though not without its flaws, this is the most inventive of all the Muppet movies, and certainly the goofiest. Its brilliant central idea is to recognise that, today, the Muppets are has-beens, but even 35 years past their sell-by date they have imperishable qualities — notably charm, innocence and optimism.

Kermit and Miss Piggy share a moment while singing a duet of The Rainbow Connection during the telethon to help save the Muppet Theater

Kermit and Miss Piggy share a moment while singing a duet of The Rainbow Connection during the telethon to help save the Muppet Theater

Gary (the amiable Jason Segel) and his resiliently cheerful girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams reprising her endearing character from Enchanted) live in Smalltown, America, and decide to take Gary’s drippy best friend Walter (Peter Linz) with them on holiday to Hollywood.

As Gary and the suspiciously Muppet-like Walter are lifelong fans of the Muppets, they visit their celebrated Studio in Los Angeles — in reality, the TV shows were shot in Britain’s answer to Hollywood, Borehamwood — and are shocked to find that the 30-year-old studios have fallen into decay. The tour guide (Alan Arkin) has seen better days, if not decades.

The visitors overhear that evil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper with a maniacal laugh) is about to demolish the studio and start drilling for oil.
So our three heroes find a sad, down- on-his-luck-and-feeling-more-blue-than-green Kermit the Frog and persuade him to reunite the gang for one last fund- raising show.

This isn’t easy. Animal is undergoing anger management therapy and is forbidden to play drums. Fozzie Bear is playing Reno with an awful Muppets tribute show called The Moopets.

Only Gonzo the Great and Miss Piggy have done well — he as a plumbing millionaire, she as a chic fashion editor in Paris, with a snobby secretary played (of course) by Emily Blunt.

Not all the gags work, the central concept of putting on a show to save a theatre pretty much defines ‘corny’, and one or two of the numbers — especially the rock anthem We Built This City — are ill-chosen.

The song-and-dance numbers written for the film by Bret McKenzie, however, are a delight.

The affection that Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller have for the Muppets shines through the production, and give it a nostalgic glow. And it’s a shrewd idea to reprise a few Muppet favourites — The Rainbow Connection, the opening title number and, of course, the catchy Mahna Mahna. One sadness is that the film doesn’t contain any A-list stars — the best it can do is Jack Black — whereas in its glory days the TV show could attract just about anyone: Bob Hope, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers . . .

Maybe enough people will see this movie to make the showbiz powers-that-be realise some of the best comedy is, er, deeply felt.