“THE MUPPETS” – 3 1/2 STARS

The Muppets have been missing in action for years now making them complete unknowns to a new generation of children. Now they are back in a feature film simply titled “The Muppets” and in many ways, it’s a fun and nostalgic step back in time. It’s based off “The Muppet Show”, a parody-driven variety program which ran from 1976 to 1981 and branched out into several full length movies. The whole cast is back and the result is a family-friendly experience that will bring back some fond memories for parents while introducing these wonderful characters to a new younger audience. And while the movie certainly retains that Muppet magic in places, it’s not without it’s problems.

Jason Segal wrote and stars as Gary, a human and brother to Walter who is a puppet. The two are incredibly close and as adults still live together. Throughout the years, Walter has become a huge Muppets fan. He watches all of their old shows, has a Kermit watch, and has a bedroom wall plastered with Muppet posters and stickers. Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) plan a romantic vacation to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Walter ends up coming along and gets an opportunity to visit the old Muppet Theater. There he overhears the plot of an evil oil tycoon, appropriately named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), to tear down the theater and drill for oil in it’s place. Walter makes it his mission to save the theater by convincing the Muppets, who have long since parted ways, to get back together for one last show to save the theater.

Both Gary and Mary are simple and sometimes cheesy characters and for the most part that’s ok. Segal and Adams make them both likeable even though their cluelessness is sometimes overplayed. Chris Cooper is a lot of fun as the stereotypical cold-hearted businessman and he hams it up without short-changing the character. But the Muppets are the real stars and while there are a few different voices, they all pretty much have the same personalities I remember from the show. They’re all here and I was surprised to see how much I remembered about them. Being this is a fairly concentrated movie, I was disappointed that some didn’t get as much screen time as I wanted but there’s not a lot you can do about that.

The story, while straightforward and predictable, does offer some pretty good laughs. There are several musical numbers throughout the film some of which are quite fun. Cooper’s bad guy rap is hilarious and works so well due to it’s absolute absurdity while others fall pretty flat and add little to the movie. But often times jokes are made at the song’s expense and they’re actually quite funny. “The Muppets” features several scenes that are like nostalgic flashbacks but it also has a few dull moments. The story drags in places and doesn’t maintain a steady pace. These lulls certainly don’t kill the picture but keep it from being as good as it could have been.

“The Muppets” may not be a great movie but it did leave me feeling like I had stepped back in time. I really enjoyed seeing these characters that I loved as a child back together again and there were several instances where I gave a hearty laugh at the genuinely funny jokes. There are also some fun cameo appearances by James Carville, Emily Blunt, Mickey Rooney, Selina Gomez and several more. While the movie hits a few speed bumps along the way, overall I did have fun and I guess that’s all that counts.

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