The Muppets wears its cleverness and self-awareness on its sleeve, so it should come as no surprise that it's also highly knowledgeable on the subject of the roller-coaster ride the famous puppets have been on since their creator's untimely death in 1990. The felt and googly-eyed creatures made their big-screen debut in 1979's The Muppet Movie, which made enough money to justify a pair of nearly-as-popular sequels. By the time Muppets from Space was released in 1999, the franchise was on the skids, with several critics claiming that they never even liked those critters in the first place.
None of this is stated explicitly in The Muppets, save for one early mention of the "standard Fame and Fortune contract" they signed with Orson Welles in the first movie, but the fact of their decline is front and center, as is the film's mission to save the Muppets from total extinction. Luckily, the effervescent, musically savvy spirits of How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel and Flight of the Conchords director and co-star (respectively) James Bobin and Bret McKenzie, are here to help. In a vague, Venn-diagram overlap between the Whedonverse (because, really, doesn't this all go back to "Once More, With Feeling"?) and Apatowvia, The Muppets is both the refugee and the aid worker, the savior and the saved.
The film begins with a series of reflexive production numbers that quickly establishes the special rules of its unreal world; there's even a nod to the idea that the filmmakers' desire to make everybody fall in love with the Muppets and sing and have a great time can be a little exasperating to everybody else. The opening song, "Life's a Happy Song," represents the film's high point, and if it was a short film, it would be the kind of vivacious, inventive short that's sometimes used to fund an expansion to feature length.
The rest of the film is a bit of a comedown, even if you're unlikely ever to forget the spectacle of Chris Cooper rapping. The bulk of the film's comedy consists of bad puns from Fozzie, and loads of self-referential remarks. Unusually long at 103 minutes, The Muppets becomes a little tiring in its insistence on being loved, and its relentless rib-nudging leaves a few bruises. Plus, do we really need Kermit and Miss Piggy to have bracingly sincere heart to hearts to patch up their waning relationship?
IMAGE / SOUND:
Visually unremarkable but usually given to bright, peppy colors, Disney's Blu-ray transfer of The Muppets is flawless and professional, as one might expect from a recent, high-profile theatrical release. The 7.1 sound mix is, as expected, effervescent and spirited and resistance-withering.
When you pause the film, an Intermission curtain appears, and the zany puppets let you know they're still close at hand, with wisecracks and easy access to the film's short and medium-sized featurettes. The three-disc set is stocked with little bits and pieces of media-savvy, self-referential comedy, and Muppets appreciation, best watched if you're still riding the wave of the film's musical, eager-to-please high. In addition to a DVD and digital copy of the film, the set also includes the film's soundtrack, compatible with iPods and similar devices.
A veritable romper-room presentation of this lovable (or, for some, insistently love-craving), reflexive musical comedy.