The Muppets

Year: 2011
Studio: Disney
Director: James Bobin
Writer: Jason Segel/Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Jack Black, Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney

Just like you can't make a movie about Alice in Wonderland without battles or Sherlock Holmes without explosions today, you couldn't make another movie about The Muppets without the film making some self-referential, post modern crack at itself.

Thankfully The Muppets, 13 years after the characters' last appearance on big screens, keeps the 21st century sass to a minimum, a delicate balancing act because as cowriter and star Jason Segel has pointed out, the show was supposed to be subversive comedy after the wholesome goodness of Sesame Street.

It would be easy for the whole Muppet universe to fall into kitsch, especially for moviegoing audiences today who don't really know much about it. I thought the same about this film as I did about The Smurfs, that its money would come from nostalgic fortysomethings like Segel and his co-creators. I really wondered if, when kids more used to the sex and violence of the entertainment they've been bought up on see it, they'll fall asleep while mumbling 'lame'.

Even riskier, it essentially tells the same story as the very first film, The Muppet Movie, from way back in 1979 – of getting the gang back together. Walter and Gary (Segel) are manchildren brothers who've grown up loving The Muppets, Walter in particular identifying with his heroes because he actually is a Muppet.

When the pair fulfill a lifelong dream and visit LA to see Muppet Studios they find a ramshackle wreck, its heyday long past and an evil oil speculator (Cooper) determined to win the land to drill for oil.

Walter and Gary convince Kermit to get everyone back together for one more performance and the growing crowd does what it does best, the tone gently veering from sweet and loving to silly and funny in equal measure – exactly what the Muppets used to be. When Gary comes to an important realisation, for example, he tells girlfriend Mary (Adams) 'I just sang a whole song about it'.

It was smart to give former fans like Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller the reigns rather than just suits with eyes on licensing deals. The Muppets consequently feels as much art as commerce, a nice change in a commercial movie and a blast if you loved the show as a kid.

Trivia spotters will also recognise the broken down Muppet Studios as being a digital stand-in for Disney's El Capitan theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the big final dance number and a lot of the action is set.

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