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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Muppets

Oscar predictions: First up, score and song

February 22, 2012 |  2:13 pm

Jason Segel and Walter in The Muppet Movie
The screeners have been scattered. The receptions are over. No more Qs to ask. No more A's to be given. The ballots are in, and now, for the lucky Oscar nominees, all that’s left to do is work on those (ahem) 30-second speeches and/or the feigned looks of utter joy that will alight when someone else’s name is read.

Capping off our coverage of the Academy Awards races, The Envelope's Gold Standard will take one last sweep through all 24 Oscar categories in posts throughout the week, making our final predictions before disappearing into the breaking dawn, free, finally, to watch the likes of “Ghost Rider” without having to worry out another way to consider the merits (or lack thereof) of “The Artist.”

And, since there’s a song in our hearts, let’s start the predictions with the two music categories …


The nominees:

“The Adventures of Tintin,” John Williams
“The Artist,” Ludovic Bource
“Hugo,” Howard Shore
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Alberto Iglesias
“War Horse,” John Williams

And the winner is …: “The Artist.” It’s the score that voters most remember, the music that carried and conveyed the emotions in the film that will likely be this year’s best picture winner. It’s grand and gorgeous, stately and sly, celebrating both Hollywood’s past and the composer’s native land. Yes, there’s that inclusion of Bernard Hermann’s “Vertigo” score, an act that could be viewed either as a homage or, in Kim Novak’s words, a “violation.” But the minor flap over the issue also helped focus the conversation on the 80 minutes of original, wide-ranging music that Bource composed for the film.

Unless …: Up is down, black is white, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria hits and “Hugo”-mania sweeps the academy, resulting in a best picture win, a near below-the-line sweep and an Oscar for Shore’s lilting score.


The nominees:

“Man or Muppet” (Bret McKenzie for “The Muppets”)
“Real in Rio” (Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett for “Rio”)

And the winner is … “Man or Muppet.” The music branch’s stringent eligibility requirements have resulted in this sad, cupboard-is-bare pair of nominees, neither of which will be performed during the ceremony, probably out of sheer embarrassment over the category’s meagerness. On the face of it, this should be a slam dunk. You vote for the song from the beloved franchise revival, a movie that featured not just the nominated “Man or Muppet” but also two other worthy numbers (“Life’s a Happy Song,” “Pictures in My Head”) that would have made for a fun, tedium-breaking medley during the show.

And while we believe our foam-based friends will pull off the win, the age of the average academy member is … what was it … 112?, so that may mean there is more nostalgia among voters for Sergio Mendes (“Mas Que Nada,” baby!) than we thought. Still, we'll be surprised if “Real in Rio,” a song we defy anyone to sing to us, wins Mendes his first Academy Award.


'The Muppets:' Can the felt-y and wide-eyed find hipness?

Oscars: Best original song field has 39 contenders

— Glenn Whipp

Whipp writes the Gold Standard awards column for The Envelope.

Photo: Jason Segel stars in "The Muppets." Credit: Scott Garfield/Disney.

'The Muppets': The rules of writing for a pig and a frog [video]

December 19, 2011 |  6:00 am


Turns out writing a Muppet script is no easy task. Star Jason Segel and his "The Muppets" screenwriting partner Nicholas Stoller, who previously collaborated on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek," spent four years writing a script that both honored the Jim Henson Muppet movies of the past and remained relevant today, they told an audience at the Envelope Screening Series.

That required learning the specific rules of each Muppet and simplifying a very complicated initial premise. Learn more about a rather complex writing process -- one that may have involved adult-size Muppet costumes -- in the video clip below.


'The Muppets' are sweet and subversive: Movie review

'Muppets' director promises plenty of "anarchic stupidity"

-- Nicole Sperling

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

'The Muppets': The 'perfect' music and Chris Cooper raps [video]

December 16, 2011 |  5:37 pm


"The Muppets" achieved this year what many thought was impossible: It lured in both parents looking to relive their childhood while also attracting children still interested in Kermit, despite his well-worn felt. We chatted with the filmmakers behind the movie, including star, co-writer and executive producer Jason Segel, co-writer Nicholas Stoller, director James Bobin ("Flight of the Conchords") and producer Todd Lieberman as part of The Envelope Screening Series.

In the video clip below, the four men chat about the film's music, and Bobin's stellar decision to lure in Bret McKenzie, one half of his "Flight of the Conchords" duo, who also happens to be a terrific musician, and the interesting conversations Segel had with Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper about his out-of-character rap in the film.



'The Muppets' are sweet and subversive: Movie review

'Muppets' director promises plenty of "anarchic stupidity"

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Jason Segel and Amy Adams join a slew of Muppets for an important meeting. Credit: Patrick Wymore/Disney Studios

'The Muppets,' 'Shame': Critics had their say--what do you think?

December 5, 2011 |  5:55 pm

The Muppets
Visitors to the multiplex this last weekend who weren't looking for vampire romance found themselves with a couple of very different options: the family fun of the Jason Segel-led musical comedy "The Muppets" and the NC-17-rated sex addict drama "Shame," starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. We're curious to hear what you think of these divergent but well received films.

"The Muppets," which Segel co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller and stars in with Amy Adams, has delighted many critics. The Times' Betsy Sharkey wrote of the film, "There are a few stumbles, but not too many, and by the time [protagonists] Gary and Walter get to a showstopping number that asks the burning question — 'Am I a man, or a Muppet?' — you are completely hooked."

Continue reading »

Box office: Even cute Kermit can't top Lautner, Pattinson [Video]

December 5, 2011 | 12:06 pm

The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1 was the No 1 film at the box office for the third consecutive weekend
Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of "The Muppets" were expected to rule the box office this weekend, but even the cute puppets couldn't prove more alluring than the latest "Twilight" flick.

For the third consecutive weekend, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" was the No. 1 film at the box office. While the film raked in an additional sum of around $17 million, it was otherwise a lackluster weekend at the multiplex. After a slew of new films hit theaters over the Thanksgiving holiday, no movies debuted nationwide this weekend. As a result, it ended up being the second-slowest movie-going weekend of the year.

Still, both the family films "Hugo" and "Arthur Christmas" held up decently, as both films have now grossed around $25 million. But how big can the 3-D movies get? Check out this week's box office video report for more details.


Are fans shunning repeat viewings of 'Breaking Dawn'?

Weekend box office: 'Breaking Dawn' wins slow weekend

Sex addict drama 'Shame' has solid debut despite NC-17 rating

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo:  Ashley Greene, left, Kristen Stewart and Nikki Reed star in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1." Credit: Summit Entertainment

'The Muppets:' Can the felt-y and wide-eyed find hipness?

November 24, 2011 | 10:45 am


Thanksgiving brings with it the promise of many things: an abundance of side dishes, an uneven Detroit Lions game, a new holiday movie season.

That last one's a little deceiving, since this year that new holiday movie season looks a lot like an old one. Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppets gang -- as they've been reminding us in every parody known to man (and Muppet) -- have come back.

With their return, though, personalities that once felt cutting edge can seem a little quaint. The Muppets are puppets in a CGI age, adult-like characters in a time of child heroes, sweetness in an age of snark.

Even their once-prescient characteristic is commonplace -- they're pioneers of irony in a time when self-reference is practiced by everyone and their mother (or, I guess, my mother).

All of which makes for an interesting little lab experiment. Disney's new Muppets movie will almost certainly be a hit this weekend, as scores of nostalgia-minded parents take themselves and even their kids to see it. But will it catch on with young people and become a part of 21st-century pop culture the way it did three decades ago?

Few creations are truly timeless, even the classics (try showing Lucille Ball to your 8-year-old). And though the Muppets of the 1970s and early 1980s were ahead of their time, they were also very much of it: Miss Piggy's not-quite-feminist outbursts, the unhurried pacing, the Bob Hope and Steve Martin cameos, the stonerish remove of, well, so many of them. Bringing the Muppets back isn't like rebooting "The Karate Kid." It's more like rebooting a zeitgeist.

Or as veteran teen-television producer Dan Schneider  ("iCarly") told me when I put the question to him: "Kermit on the bicycle in the first six minutes of 'The Muppet Movie' was exciting, because we'd never seen a puppet riding a bicycle. Now you click on YouTube and a million things look like that."

The filmmakers understood this problem, of course, and baked it into the movie's script. Just as the film fights for cultural standing, its characters do too. The storyline in "The Muppets" -- created not by family-film veterans but grown-up types like director James Bobin ("Flight of the Conchords") writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman ("The Fighter") -- centers on a group that's also trying to mount a comeback, plagued by doubt over whether anyone still cares.

It may be a first in children's programming: "The Muppets" are posing a question about their relevance to the very people who will determine the answer (the audience). It may also be the first time ever that Hollywood resistance to greenlighting a movie became part of that movie's plotline.

The characters are mainly worried that they're too nice compared to today's reality shows, like the hillariously made-up "Punch Teacher." But the Muppets may have the opposite issue: One of the reasons they would struggle in 2011 is that in a lot of ways they're too similar to what's out there.

The original incarnations of the Muppets left a mark so deep on the children's entertainment landscape that, if you look at Muppets offerings now, you can be forgiven for thinking they're nothing special.  Their heart and sweetness have become standard in Pixar films. Their sense of adventure has been imitated in Nickelodeon shows such as "Dora the Explorer."

And their adult-friendly in-jokes,  meta-ness (they did pull out the movie's script in the middle of the "The Muppet Movie" to figure out what to do) and pop-culture references is now common in everything from "Rango" to "Puss in Boots."

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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.

Continue reading »

'Muppets,' 'Arthur Christmas,' 'Hugo' hit with movies critics

November 23, 2011 | 12:13 pm

Arthur Christmas

Film critics are falling all over themselves — and not for the last spoonful of stuffing at the holiday buffet. Reviewers have come out in force in support of this week’s new movies, with nearly across-the-board raves not only for the limited-release silent film “The Artist” but also for the mass-appeal family films “Hugo,” “The Muppets” and “Arthur Christmas.”

According to averages of the three leading movie review aggregation sites — Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and Movie Review Intelligence — the best-reviewed of the PG-rated movies is Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” a 3-D live-action drama adapted with screenwriter John Logan from the best-selling novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” Rotten Tomatoes assigned “Hugo” an average score of 96, Metacritic gave it an 84 and Movie Review Intelligence called it an 87.5, for an average score from the three sites of 89.2.

The latest live-action “Muppets” story also drew extremely strong marks, with a 97 from Rotten Tomatoes, a 76 from Metacritic and a 77.4 from Movie Review Intelligence, for an average from the three aggregators of 83.5

“Arthur Christmas,” an animated film about what really happens at the North Pole around Dec. 25, earned a 94 from Rotten Tomatoes, a 72 from Metacritic and a 74.3 from Movie Review Intelligence, for an overall average of 80.1.

But none of Thanksgiving movies can quite touch “The Artist,” which so far has collected some of the year’s best reviews — right up there with “The Descendants,” “Shame” and the documentary “We Were Here.”

Rotten Tomatoes gave “The Artist” a score of 98, Metacritic said it rated an 83 and Movie Review Intelligence gave it a 91.1, for an average of 90.7.


Movie review: 'Hugo'

Movie review: 'Arthur Christmas'

Movie review: 'The Muppets' are sweet and subversive

--John Horn

Photo: A scene from "Arthur Christmas" Credit: Aardman Animations


Nothing says Thanksgiving like Bruno [poll]

November 21, 2011 |  4:18 pm

Sacha Baron Cohen
When you count your blessings over the Thanksgiving holiday, being grateful for Sacha Baron Cohen may not be at the top your--or anyone else's--list. But a close examination of next week's family movies shows that the star of "Brüno" and "Borat" has direct ties to all three of the PG-rated titles opening Wednesday.

The most obvious case is "Hugo," director Martin Scorsese's adaptation of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." The "Raging Bull" director cast Cohen as the story's station inspector, and even gave the character a bit of a love story.

"Arthur Christmas," a new holiday story looking at the real inner workings of the North Pole, was written by Peter Baynham, a screenwriter on "Brüno" and "Borat."

Finally, "The Muppets," an update on the legendary puppets, was directed by James Bobin, who directed numerous episodes of Cohen's "Da Ali G. Show."

--John Horn

Photo of Sacha Baron Cohen in "Brüno." Credit: Universal Pictures




Word of Mouth: Demolition derby at the Thanksgiving box office [video]

November 17, 2011 |  3:49 pm

It's one of the busiest moviegoing weekends of the year. And this Thanksgiving could also be one of the ugliest.

No fewer than three PG-rated movies will be released Wednesday, and because all of them are pursuing the same basic audience — parents and their kids — it's likely there will be a bit of show business cannibalization. In this week's Word of Mouth column, John Horn looks at the opportunities for and challenges facing the three movies — "Hugo," "The Muppets" and "Arthur Christmas."

The movies not only have to compete against one another but also the second weekend for the latest "Twilight" sequel and "Happy Feet Two." Like a big Thanksgiving meal, perhaps there will be enough to go around for everyone.


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