You would be forgiven for fearing the Muppets were long forgotten, pushed to the back of some dusty shelf in the Disney vault of underused characters, for lack of interest from both audiences and the studio's head honchos. It is therefore a relief and a pleasure to report that Jim Henson's sweetly subversive felt puppets are back in fine form in this update-cum-resurrection, masterminded by diehard superfan Jason Segel - Disney, thankfully and to their credit, seem to have been hands-off enough for the project to not look as corporate as it could be. This tale of the long-disbanded vaudeville gang getting back together for one last show to save their theatre from being sold to a greedy oilman manages not only to recapture the whirling anarchy of the original series, but also to put its own conundrum in the dead centre of the plot dreamt up by Mr. Segel and his regular writing partner Nicholas Stoller: how do you make the Muppets relevant in this day and age?

     The answer is very simple: you don't. The Muppets are pretty much given up as dead and buried by nearly everyone in the movie except by the lead, new muppet Walter (voiced by puppeteer Peter Linz), who's grown up in Smalltown as the younger brother to man-child Gary (Mr. Segel himself) and is the prime mover behind getting the gang back together. And the charm is that the Muppets, of course, don't really need to change to be relevant since they never were of their time to begin with - they were always out of time, so to speak, even back in the 1970s; that's the trick of the movie, seesawing between the wide-eyed innocence transported wholesale from their television heyday and the charmingly subversive comedy inherited from their cartoonish origins.

     It must be said The Muppets isn't a great movie: the nature of the puppets themselves, stubbornly analog in this CGI era, creates limitations to what first-timer James Bobin (a Brit schooled in television) can do, so he plays it far too safe without much inventiveness, and the Mickey-and-Judy let's-put-on-a-show plot can look a bit lazy. But Mr. Bobin makes up for it in the manic, cheerful energy and tempo that turn the film into a hugely enjoyable ride filled with love for the characters and the sense that their brand of offbeat, giddy humour, if handled right, never really goes out of fashion. And guess what? It doesn't.

Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones; Muppet performers, Steve Whitmire, Doug Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bob Baretta, Peter Vogel, Peter Linz.
     Director, James Bobin; screenplay, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller; cinematography, Don Burgess (colour by DeLuxe); music, Christophe Beck; production designer, Steve Saklad; costume designer, Rahel Afiley; editor, James Thomas; producers, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman (Walt Disney Pictures), USA, 2011, 101 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), January 27th 2012.



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