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OSCARS DEATH RACE: THE MUPPETS

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by Sarah D. Bunting
February 13, 2012 6:56 AM
6 Comments
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[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]

I loved the Muppets as a kid -- The Muppet Show is one of the few programs my parents' ambitious first-child rules about TV would allow -- and I remember them fondly. But I had misgivings about The Muppets going in, for two reasons. The first is that, while I like Jason Segel, he works better for me as a seasoning and not the main course.

The second reason, which I admit knowing full well that this is the internet equivalent of climbing Wolf Mountain wearing a steak suit, is that I don't like Miss Piggy, at all. I never did. The "hiiiii-YA!", the "moi," the Scarlett-O'Hara-class come-here-go-away nonsense with Kermit: no thanks. If it was always intended as a meta commentary on high-strung actresses or something, well, my bad, but I don't care for it.

I didn't care for The Muppets either, and Miss Piggy is kind of a bitch in it but it isn't her fault (or Segel's; he fully commits to Gary and his various soppy subplots). It's the storyline about Walter, Gary's Muppet brother and world's biggest Muppets fan, finding his place in the world and believing in himself and whatnot -- a perfectly functional concept whose execution here is problematic. Again, Gary (a human) and Walter (a Muppet) grew up together. Gary is apparently around 30, which would put Walter in his late 20s, probably, and yes, it's a kids' movie, but what's up with their still sharing a twin-beds Bert-and-Ernie domicile? If that's the house they grew up in, what became of their parents? This isn't even getting into the arrested-development issues Gary's having: son, you don't keep a girlfriend played by Amy Adams waiting ten years for a ring. She teaches a car-repair class, in a circle skirt and pumps! Also, she's Amy Adams. I know that's the point, but the problem here…is that it's Amy Adams. (She's charming in the film, in spite of the "it's me or the dog" bit she has to play.)

And then you find yourself troubled with all these larger existential questions about Muppet aging -- they split up how long ago? Which makes them how old now? Are they…old old? The Eighties-Robot gag is okay (I enjoyed visiting with vintage soda-can fonts), but then you can't stop wondering how we're meant to understand "Muppet years" and whether they can die or they just get unstuffed or what.

And then you down a half-inch of bourbon and wander back to your point, and here it is: the movie treats Walter like he's still a child. That doesn't really line up timing-wise, and Walter is just kind of a wet end in the second place. It's great that he finds his people (well, "people"), and he's a hell of a whistler, but that subplot draaaaags. The main plot, in which the Muppets must reunite to save their theater from an evil land developer (Chris Cooper, who tries heroically, but I hope he fired his agent after he had to rap), is also a foregone conclusion, but between the meta jokes from Waldorf and Statler about how they're announcing plot points; the Scandinavian diacritical marks on the Chef's subtitles; the Chiba-esque credits sequence for kidnapping Jack Black; and sundry cameos, that story is more spritely. The Walter stuff that felt shoehorned in for children/people unfamiliar with the franchise felt damp and simplistic.

The nominated song, "Man or Muppet," is why we're all here. It's not good, and not just because forces Walter to sing that he's "a very manly Muppet." Blech. Still, expect to see Mr. The Frog up at the podium on Oscar night.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.comFor more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.

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6 Comments

  • Elizabeth | February 18, 2012 8:19 AMReply

    I always thought that "The" was Kermit's middle name...

  • C. Puffer | February 16, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    Well, this is frustrating: I wrote a long, respectful response but your commenting system keeps telling me it appears to be spam with no indication about what it is that is triggering this.

    I never thought I would say this, but you all should consider Disqus because the commenting system you currently have has many drawbacks.

  • Sarah D. Bunting | February 17, 2012 10:47 AM

    I had a comment get eaten as well. Not sure what that's about.

  • Sarah D. Bunting | February 13, 2012 2:59 PMReply

    "I'm sorry, are you seriously hinging your criticism on the real-world logic of the age of a Muppet whose brother is human?"

    No. I'm hinging my criticism on the fact that, because Walter is so drippy and uncompelling, the viewer has little else to think about but how old he is, whether he ages at the same rate as humans, did I remember to put mustard on my shopping list, etc. I hear you on the rest of the surreal aspects of the set-up, but I think the answer is that, if Walter were more interesting or if the jokes were coming faster, I wouldn't have had time/the inclination to question the logic.

    Calling this a career best for Chris Cooper, however, is an unfunky absurdity all its own.

  • Calem | March 27, 2014 3:30 PM

    Miss. Sarah it's a Muppet movie xd its not suppose to make sense and I think the charm of this Walter was that he was a muppet who faced discrimination from others just because he was different and person he could count on in life was his brother and yeah I kind of agree with you about Miss Piggy however I do feel that the song Man or a muppet was a really good song

  • C. Puffer | February 13, 2012 12:20 PMReply

    I'm sorry, are you seriously hinging your criticism on the real-world logic of the age of a Muppet whose brother is human? This is a movie where the cast travel by map and montage so they can move around the globe in a weekend. If you're going to bring your cynicism to bear on the over-the-top Small Town (literally) relationship of Adams/Segel in a reality where a pig and a frog a have an ill-fated relationship perhaps you don't really have a cogent argument about why you don't like the movie. Also, Chris Cooper should reward his agent; the rap was funny and his commitment to its unfunky absurdity was a career best. The 'Muppet or a Man' song, while the one bit where I could overtly discern the voice of songwriter McKenzie, was actually a fine bit of comic and musical invention that is hugely catchy. I've heard some interesting arguments about why this movie doesn't work in the pantheon of other Muppet ventures (though, as a kid who grew up on loving the Muppets, I don't agree at all) and this is so not one of them.

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