Running a tad late and coming in from the cold, as I entered the BFI Southbank for LoCo’s The Muppets preview, I was immediately warmed by a live swing band’s rendition of ‘Mahna Mahna’ and set at ease by an awkward Englishman’s failure to resist an embarrassing jig as he traversed the foyer.
Tonight was the opening of the London Comedy Film Festival and it was time to play the music and to light the lights, as The Muppets was topping the bill. It was impossible not to notice the atmosphere of palpable excitement as comedy-lovers in fresh Muppet t-shirts were confronted with excited children pondering how to make their ‘furry friends’ from the goodie bag of Muppet-textured materials that every guest received.
“Oh we all praise Michael Fassbender’s brave nudity in Shame he lamented, but let’s not forget I’ve been going naked for fifty years!”
The crowd’s enthusiasm continued into the theatre itself, as the introductions from LoCo founders and BFI staff, with their emphasis on the need for greater celebration and appreciation of comedy film, was met with warm applause throughout the cinema. Then it was Kermit’s turn to address these issues in his on-screen personal message: “Oh we all praise Michael Fassbender’s brave nudity in Shame he lamented, but let’s not forget I’ve been going naked for fifty years!” Right on, Kermie. As the room darkened after this brief but entertaining preface, the mood was akin to the beginning of a stand-up gig. We all wanted to be entertained, we were raring to laugh. This was surely going to be a film experience like no other.
Simply entitled The Muppets, this is the first Muppet feature for some time not to mimic a famous story or thrust our furry friends into an unfamiliar environment like, errr, space. The plot is simple: ultimate Muppet fan Walter travels with his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) from their small-town home to visit the Muppet Studios in LA. However, upon discovering plans to destroy the studios by oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), they must help Kermit to reunite the gang and raise $10 million to buy back the studios. How will they do this I hear you ask? With one last Muppet telethon bonanza, obviously.
In the first few scenes of the new film it appeared my worst fears might be confirmed as Jason Segel worked through some clunky dialogue…
Before the film started we were treated to a Toy Story short from the geniuses at Pixar. Cue five minutes of sheer hilarity and audience roars. Putting this on before we were reintroduced to The Muppets after a twelve-year silver screen hiatus was either brave, or very, very stupid indeed. In the first few scenes of the new film it appeared my worst fears might be confirmed as Jason Segel worked through some clunky dialogue, struggling to show any real connection to his on-screen brother and new Muppet, Walter.
Yet, just as I had been set at ease by the swing band in the foyer, my confidence was immediately restored by the opening number, as Gary, Walter and Mary boomed out ‘Life’s a Happy Song’ in an old-school musical set-piece with an army of dancers frolicking in the background. This was like having a massive gobstopper shoved into my mouth in the first five minutes and honestly, the sweetness lasted until the credits rolled. Undoubtedly, the music was the biggest positive of this film. Music supervisor Brett McKenzie (of Flight of the Concords fame) has rightly been nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar for ‘Man or Muppet’ and every single number he’s crafted is catchy enough to have you humming guiltily for days after…I still am.
…the Muppets themselves are joined by an array of crowd-pleasing cameo stars, as well as the energetic and charming leads of Segel and Adams…
For me this film was a reminder of why I fell in love with the gang all those years ago. I remembered how utterly wonderful and ridiculous these characters are and how brilliantly they’re brought to life. Perhaps I would have realised this even before thewriting team of Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel unleashed the very best in them with some razor-sharp, witty dialogue and before the whole thing was brought together by James Bobin’s brilliant comedy directing and set-pieces. As if that isn’t enough, in their latest venture The Muppets themselves are joined by an array of crowd-pleasing cameo stars, as well as the energetic and charming leads of Segel and Adams, who soar in the musical numbers and pull off the marshmallow spoof acting with complete ease. Overall, you get the feeling that it was a labour of love, with all those involved in its production acutely aware of just how brilliant The Muppets can be and determined to reach that potential.
In the last few years we’ve become used to computer-animated films which appeal to kids and adults in almost equal measure. The Muppets productions of the past have always provided good clean children’s entertainment and any sight of these lovable characters was always going to spark off nostalgia from any of us who remember clunking The Muppet Christmas Carol into their video player EVERY. SINGLE. CHRISTMAS. But this Muppets creation is being released into a market where it has to do more, it has to hook the new ‘Kermitless’ generation while also producing some serious chuckles from their cash-strapped parents. As director Bobin was introduced to the audience for a Q&A after the film it looked as if this had been achieved. His delight in the finished product was clear for all to see and only bolstered by audience reactions: a few kids grabbed the mic to give their nervous, one-word judgments of ‘good’, ‘funny’ and ‘unique’ and one of the adults present simply said, “thank you for creating the best Muppet film ever”. The British-born, self-proclaimed Muppets fan said that he wanted to reintroduce the franchise so that “where they go from here is up to them”. Mission accomplished.
The Muppets are back!
LoCo has played a blinder by securing this film as the opener for their very first festival. The Muppets gave us comedy in its purest form and reminded all those present of just how much laughter can be created by a cocktail of brilliant characters and sharp dialogue…especially when some phenomenal music is thrown in for good measure. I walked back out into the cold assured to two things: The London Comedy Film Festival is here to stay and, well, The Muppets are back!
The Muppets is released on 10February.