I grew up with the Muppet movies. I wasn’t old enough to watch the original series but Muppets Tonight was pretty awesome. And when the original Muppet Show got released on DVD, I attacked it like a howler monkey. The Muppets have been a part of our entertainment culture for a long, long time, bringing the third greatest gift anyone can receive to several generations of fans: laughter.
When I first saw the trailers for a new Muppet movie, I was thrilled. It stars Jason Segel and Amy Adams, who are absolutely perfect for a Muppet movie. They’re essentially living, breathing cartoons themselves. Jason has that goofy smile that hints that he’s not always exactly sure what’s happening around him and Amy has those huge, crazy huge, super intensely huge eyes that only exist in Anime. To the be the two main human characters in a Muppet movie is pretty much what they were bred for.
I waited patiently for months for the film to come out, watching many different trailers that didn’t actually say what the movie was really going to be about. Then I finally saw one that introduced Walter, Jason Segel’s Muppet brother. That’s when I started to worry a bit.
Introducing a new character in order to tell a new story with familiar characters stinks of “Mary Sue” to me. Especially since it was clear that this character was ultimately going to be the hero of the story. For people unfamiliar with the term, according to Wikipedia it’s “a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional.” This happens all the time in fan fiction but it does tend to happen in other forms of entertainment (I’m looking at you, Wesley Crusher). Before even seeing the movie, I could tell that this one puppet character that hangs out with Jason Segel and Amy Adams was going to be a large part of the plot. I’d hoped that this wouldn’t be the case, that Walter would serve as a catalyst for the plot, but not be the integral piece to the puzzle.
I just saw the movie and last night and, sadly, I was right from the beginning: Walter is to The Muppets what Wesley Crusher is to the crew of the Starship Enterprise 1701-D. Spoilers to follow.
The film opens with a brief history of Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter. They are apparently brothers/best friends growing up in Smalltown, KS. I think it was Kansas. After some time, it became clear that Walter was never going to be taller than three feet. There is a sad scene of Walter trying to get onto a roller coaster but being too short. His taller brother decides to take him home and rent a video. But not the sort of video you would expect one brother to cheer up his depressed other brother with. They rent The Muppet Show and Walter’s obsession begins. The rest of the history lesson shows that Walter is crazy-go-nuts about the Muppets, well into adulthood.
The story really starts when Gary and Walter wake up one morning (sleeping in the same room on twin beds) and discuss the upcoming tenth anniversary trip Gary is taking Mary (Amy Adams) on. Note the names. Cute, right? Very Muppets. They are going to Los Angeles, where Mary has always wanted to go. Very romantic. Gary has a surprise for Walter, though: he’s coming along on their romantic getaway!
In Los Angeles, they go to the abandoned Muppet studio to discover that it is in a state of disrepair. The only other people on the tour are only there because they think it’s Universal Studios. It’s a pretty depressing scene, as they tour a facility that once was so clearly lively and zany but is now probably not safe for them to be walking in. During the tour, Walter sneaks away to see Kermit’s office, which was once the highlight of the tour.
It’s here that the plot thickens. Walter overhears an oil tycoon and philanthropist, Tex Richman, talking to his minions Uncle Deadly and Bobo, about how when the deed turns over to his possession, he is going to tear down the Muppets Studio and drill for oil! All while telling the world that he’s going to turn it into a Muppet Museum! The fiend! We also learn here that he is incapable of laughing and, as a result, obviously evil.
Walter returns to Gary and Mary and tells them all about the plot that’s afoot. They decide to do the only logical thing they can think of: drive around Los Angeles until they find Kermit’s house. Once there, we find out that Kermit lives alone in a house that Miss Piggy had made for them and is generally pretty depressed. This is when we start to see that Kermit isn’t actually the star at all. Walter has to convince Kermit to get the gang together and raise ten million dollars to save the Muppets Studio. Kermit was ready to throw in the towel. Kermit! The eternal optimist, the star of all things Muppet! Walter, the new guy, gets Kermit to do the right things and gather all the Muppets together for one last show.
So, they gather the Muppets. Fozzie has been leading a Muppet tribute band, the Moopets, in Reno. Gonzo is a plumbing tycoon, Animal is in anger management with Jack Black, Miss Piggy is in Paris working for a magazine… all of them have moved on with their lives. Once all but Piggy are gathered, they all travel to Paris to see what’s up with her.
Apparently, Piggy has gotten tired of Kermit’s wishy-washy approach to their relationship all these years and has moved on. She decides not to return with the group because Kermit can’t admit that he needs her as much as they all do. Defeated, the Muppets return to Los Angeles and hire Miss Poogy, from Fozzie’s old band, to replace Piggy.
Now that they’ve got a group together, they need to put on a show! They go to network executive after network executive until finally CDE gives them a chance (only after Punch Teacher, their biggest show ever, is cancelled for unclear reasons. Unclear meaning completely obvious to everyone but the network executives). But the condition is that they need a celebrity host.
With less than two days to clean up the Muppet Theatre, put a show together, and find a celebrity host, all seems hopeless. Thankfully, Walter is there again to remind them all why they do what they do and how important it is that they try. The poor Muppets can only function because Walter tells them they have to. It’s quite sad. During the clean-up, all of the Muppets take a real liking to Walter, and Kermit starts calling celebrities to try to help (with no luck).
What about Mary and Gary, do you ask? Well, the plot finally remembers them and Mary confronts Gary about his being so involved with the Muppets and not with her. Gary promises her that their anniversary will be very special, he just wants to help Walter help the Muppets. But their anniversary dinner on Friday (the night of the Muppets telethon) will be everything she’d ever hoped for. But all Mary cares about is getting married, like all girls should care about, and she mopes around Los Angeles for a while. She does have a pretty excellent song here.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, Piggy has returned and has kicked Miss Poogy out of the group. Poogy threatens them all (foreshadowing!) and leaves. Piggy informs Kermit that she’s only there for the rest of the Muppets and for her own attempts at fame, and fortune, and everything that goes with it (I thank you all) and NOT for Kermit. But rehearsals are going badlly, Kermit still can’t find a host, and Walter, who has been asked to join in on the act, can’t find a talent. Can anything else go wrong?
Yes it can! Richman plans to sabotage the Muppets’ return to the stage! And then we forget about him again.
Eventually, Mary tells Gary that he needs to decide whether he’s a Muppet or a man. Gary has no idea what she means until he (with Walter’s help) remembers that they’ve been together ten years as of that day. He decides to return to Smalltown with her, leaving Walter in the capable hands of the Muppets. Walter still can’t find a talent! The Muppets still don’t have a celebrity host! And their show is a wreck! What will they do?
Kermit decides to go home. Because he is just too damned depressed to go on. When Kermit bails, Piggy takes matters into their own hands. They decide to kidnap Jack Black to be their celebrity host! Once Jack Black is kidnapped, they convince Kermit to do the show with him as host, despite his reservations about committing a crime just to get their studio back.
Things still look bleak. Their only audience is a gang of hobos who seem to live in the theatre. But fortunately, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, and the kid from Modern Family arrive to take telethon calls. Things start falling into place. The show starts and all looks like it’s going to work out after all.
Until Walter realizes that he’s got to go on and still hasn’t figured out that he has a talent And then the Moopets and Richman show up to wreck the place. But Mary and Gary return from Smalltown and restore electricity to the theatre! And then Deadly and Bobo turn against Richman. And the Moopets don’t actually seem to do anything. Hooray!
But wait! They’ve got more time than they have acts. The money doesn’t seem to be rolling in anymore. What can they do?
Walter returns to save the day, having just remembered that he’s a fantastic whistler. His whistling fills that last space in the act. But midnight strikes and they’ve missed their mark by a dollar… or, rather, once they fix the reader board, they find that they actually weren’t very close at all. Plus, not only did they lose the studio, the Muppets apparently signed away their very name (now the Moopets can effectively steal their identities). Oh no!
Kermit’s all like “Well, we tried and failed, but we failed together, so let’s all just get out of here. Oh, and also yay Walter for getting us all back together.” They leave and that’s where the real Muppet magic happens. The streets are filled with Muppets fans. They may have lost the studio but people still care about the Muppets. Hooray again!
Richman then has an accident and learns to laugh. He decides give the studio back to the Muppets and let them keep their name. Walter is asked to
lead the Muppets forever join the Muppets and Gary proposes to Mary. And Kermit and Piggy get back together. All is right in the world especially for Walter.
I know this review seems negative and it really doesn’t deserve a negative review. It’s actually quite brilliant. I just think Walter was an unnecessary element. Any other existing character could have been a motivating force had the writers decided to keep Kermit a Debbie Downer throughout. Maybe Fozzie, sick of leading a Muppets tribute band, goes back to the studio for a trip down memory lane and hears of Richman’s plot. Or maybe Richman’s lackeys get a change of heart and go to warn Kermit and the rest of what’s to happen. Or ANYTHING else. Why bring in a new character who really doesn’t add anything to the plot?
I suppose, if I think about it, Walter represents a new audience for the Muppets, and if he can be accepted, new viewers can be just as accepted. As a longtime fan, though, I really didn’t need him.
The jokes and gags are classic Muppets through and through, though, and overall, it is a fantastic movie. It’s filmed beautifully and it was great to see some of my favorite characters grace the silver screen again. It was filled with celebrity cameos, as was to be expected. Despite all my spoilers so far, I’ll let you, noble reader, be just as surprised and elated with each cameo.
Go watch the Muppets. It’s worth it. Even with Walter stealing the show.