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'The Muppets': Movie critics welcome the return of felt friends

November 23, 2011 |  3:39 pm

The Muppets
It has been 12 years since the last time Kermit the Frog and his fuzzy friends appeared in theaters, a fact the new musical comedy "The Muppets" acknowledges and runs with. In the film directed by James Bobin (of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords") and starring Jason Segel (who also co-wrote), members of the Muppet gang have fallen on hard times but reunite to save their beloved Muppet Theater, with the help of some human pals. The film's mix of old-fashioned fun and clever updates is delighting critics.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey gives "The Muppets" a glowing review, applauding its "nostalgic charm and big, splashy production numbers." Segel fares well on screen — he's "got lovable schlub down to a science" — and off, as co-writer of a "very smart script" with Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek"). Sharkey commends the film's combination of edginess and sweetness as well as its abundance of fun cameos.  "There are a few stumbles," Sharkey writes, "but not too many, and by the time Gary [Segel] and Walter [a puppet] get to a showstopping number that asks the burning question — 'Am I a man, or a Muppet?' — you are completely hooked.

In the New York Times, Stephen Holden says of the Muppet reboot, "The happy news is that it has been done just about right, which means conceptually and technologically left alone. " A sort of throwback film, it "makes no attempt to match the wisecracking hipness of the 'Shrek' movies. If it doesn’t provoke belly laughs, it elicits many affectionate chuckles." Holden also compares Segel to another staple of Gen X kids TV, Pee-wee Herman, and predicts that we'll be seeing more of the Muppets in the future.

Michael O'Sullivan, in the Washington Post, writes, "'The Muppets' is both a delightful family film about the Muppets and a winking, self-referential satire about how lame the Muppets are." The movie pulls off this balancing act by not taking itself too seriously. It is, O'Sullivan says, "mordant without being mean and sweet without being saccharine."

NPR's Linda Holmes says, "'The Muppets' is probably as good a Muppet project as it's possible to make without Jim Henson." Holmes finds the film to have emotional depth, and on top of that, it "looks, feels and sounds great."  She has kudos for Bret McKenzie's songs (he's also from "Flight of the Conchords") and the timeless production design. Though Segel and his cohorts can't quite match Henson's unique talent, Holmes says, "they've done justice to the lovers and the dreamers."

Like most of her fellow critics, Time's Mary Pols gives the film a positive review, calling it "a good time for families over the holidays" — but she does raise some sticking points. "[N]ostalgia tends to come in waves, and in between the peaks, there are troughs," she writes. Many of the songs are "a schmaltzy blur," the movie is slow to start until the full Muppet team is assembled, and the film as a whole caters a bit too much to folks who grew up on "The Muppet Show." But in the end, Pols falls under the Muppets' sway and pleads, "Now that you’re back, please stick around."

Judging by the initial reaction to "The Muppets," it seems likely they will.

RELATED:

'Muppets' director promises plenty of 'anarchic stupidity'

'The Muppets': Kermit the Frog commands Jason Segel's respect

'The Muppets': Kermit, Miss Piggy upstage Jason Segel, Amy Adams

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Walter, Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear in "The Muppets." Credit: Scott Garfield / Disney Enterprises


 
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