The Muppets Series
The Muppet Movie (December 17/05)
The Muppet Movie is a passable but awfully slight big screen introduction to Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets, with the film often elevated by a few genuinely catchy songs and (of course) the Muppets themselves. As the story opens, Kermit leaves his swamp in pursuit of fame and fortune in Hollywood; the ensuing road trip brings the frog face-to-face with many familiar Muppets, including Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo. With its distinctly irreverent sensibility and emphasis on celebrity cameos, The Muppet Movie essentially comes off as an extended episode of the show - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although the lack of linearity eventually becomes oppressive (ie the film is just a little too free-spirited for its own good). Having said that, it's awfully difficult to resist the infectiously fun vibe and presence of several undeniably memorable tunes ("Moving Right Along," in particular, maddeningly stays with the viewer for days afterwards).
The Great Muppet Caper
Jim Henson made his feature-length directorial debut with The Great Muppet Caper, and while it's about on a par with The Muppet Movie, the film is ultimately just as silly and uneven as its predecessor. The gossamer-thin storyline follows crack reporters Kermit, Fozzy Bear, and Gonzo as they head to England to interview a famous designer whose priceless diamond necklace has just been stolen. There, they find themselves in the usual shenanigans and hijinks one might expect - while Miss Piggy pops up as (of course) Kermit's love interest. There's about an equal mix of effective and sluggish sequences contained within The Great Muppet Caper, and - generally speaking - the movie seems to have been geared more towards younger viewers than adults. Henson, working from a screenplay by Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Jerry Juhl, and Jack Rose, attempts to compensate for the lack of plot by throwing in a surfeit of musical numbers and celebrity cameos (John Cleese's minor role is particularly useless). It's really the effortless charm of the Muppets that elevates the movie to something that's consistently watchable, and there's no denying that the whole thing might be worth a peek if only for the Busby Berkeley-inspired sequence featuring a bevy of bathing beauties...and Miss Piggy.
The Muppets Take Manhattan
The Muppet Christmas Carol (December 30/05)
The Muppet Christmas Carol is an above-average Muppet movie for a couple of reasons: It's telling an established story that's inherently intriguing, and - more importantly - Michael Caine delivers a performance that's simply astounding. Caine is so good, in fact, that he brings an emotional sense of urgency that has conspicuously been missing from the rest of the Muppets' films, and it's virtually impossible not to feel something by the time the expectedly upbeat conclusion rolls around. The Muppet Christmas Carol is (of course) an adaptation of Charles Dickens' famous tale, in which Ebenezer Scrooge (Caine) is visited by three ghosts who vividly show him how his miserly ways have effected others (and himself). Gonzo (playing Dickens) and Rizzo the Rat (as himself) provide narration/comedic relief, and it's clear almost immediately that their presence is meant to keep smaller children amused (their hijinks are somehow a little too slapsticky for this classic tale). Still, as far as Muppet movies go, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains of their more memorable efforts (and you just have to love the sequence in which Animal begrudgingly plays a triangle).
Muppet Treasure Island
Though it has its moments, Muppet Treasure Island is ultimately a tedious and overlong adventure that offers little in the way of actual entertainment (younger viewers, however, might something here worth embracing). Adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale, the film details the exploits of Captain Smollett's (Kermit the Frog) efforts to prevent an evil pirate named Long John Silver (Tim Curry) from capturing a legendary hidden treasure. Director Brian Henson, who actually did a nice job with The Muppet Christmas Carol, imbues Muppet Treasure Island with a grungy sense of style that lends the film an unpleasant and ugly quality that one doesn't generally associate with a Muppet movie. The songs, of which there are many, are instantly forgettable and thoroughly meaningless, despite the high energy with which they have been infused. And though there are a few fun bits here and there (ie Statler and Waldorf's stint as the figureheads for Smollett's ship), Muppet Treasure Island has little to offer all but the most die-hard Muppet fan.
Muppets from Space
It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (November 21/03)
It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie delivers exactly what you might expect from a film with such a title, and though the usage of It's a Wonderful Life is reaching its breaking point, the Muppets manage to keep things lively enough to keep the majority of viewers entertained. There's nothing terribly original or groundbreaking about It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, which follows a depressive Kermit as he's shown what would have happened to his friends had he never existed, but one gets the impression that's the idea. The movie stays true to the Muppets and allows each of them a good amount of screen time, and the variety of cameo appearances only adds to the easy-going vibe. Joan Cusack is clearly having a good time playing an over-the-top villain, while David Arquette does a nice job of playing a meek, slightly insecure character (if only he were this restrained in flicks like See Spot Run). Even William H. Macy (!) pops up at one point, though his role is minimal. But really, the film belongs to the Muppets and they're just as charming and enjoyable as ever. Relative newcomer Pepe steals all his scenes, though it was a little odd that his elephant sidekick from the latest incarnation of The Muppet Show was absent. Old favorites like Miss Piggy and even those two old hecklers make appearances, but Kermit remains the heart and soul of the troupe. The fact that he's such a compelling figure makes it fairly easy to overlook the familiarity of this story and its oftentimes juvenile sense of humor. It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie will never make it onto the list of classic holiday flicks, but it's agreeable enough to warrant a mild recommendation (particularly if one is a fan of the Muppets).
The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (September 24/05)
Though the quality of the Muppets' output has steadily been decreasing over the years, they've never made a flat-out bad film until now. The Muppets' Wizard of Oz is a shockingly terrible adaptation of L. Frank Baum's legendary novel featuring Ashanti as Dorothy and the Muppets as various characters (eg Kermit is the Scarecrow, Gonzo is the Tin Man, Fozzie Bear is the Cowardly Lion, etc), with the proceedings augmented by several utterly forgettable musical numbers. It certainly doesn't help that star Ashanti, though relatively personable, is almost entirely devoid of anything even resembling talent in terms of acting (and she's a mediocre singer to boot). There are a couple of funny moments here and there - including an always-welcome appearance by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his loyal assistant Beaker - but this is otherwise strictly for kids (and makes one long for the comparatively stellar original film).
The Muppets' first big-screen adventure in over a decade, The Muppets follows Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang as they attempt to save their beloved theater from destruction - with their efforts assisted by a trio of Muppet superfans (Jason Segel's Gary, Amy Adams' Mary, and a new Muppet named Walter). Filmmaker James Bobin, working from a script by Segel and Nicholas Stoller, has infused The Muppets with a briskly-paced and unabashedly old-fashioned feel that proves impossible to resist, with the movie's delightfully upbeat atmosphere perpetuated by its affable performances, toe-tapping musical numbers, and overall emphasis on straight-faced silliness. Segal and Stoller's almost slavish adherence to the Muppets' sketch-comedy origins does, however, result in a narrative that's often noticeably uneven, with the film's lack of momentum especially problematic during the slightly overlong and decidedly rocky midsection. (It's ultimately the charisma of the human and felt-based stars that sustains the viewer's interest through The Muppets' more overtly underwhelming stretches, with Chris Cooper's engrossing, frequently hilarious turn as the movie's moustache-twirling villain certainly standing as a highlight.) Such concerns become moot once the entertainingly frenetic climax rolls around, and there is, in the final analysis, little doubt that the film stands as an appropriate comeback for (and introduction to) Jim Henson's iconic creation.
Muppets Most Wanted
It's difficult to regard Muppets Most Wanted as anything other than a significant disappointment, as the movie is simply unable to replicate the easygoing magic of its immediate predecessor - with an overlong running time and emphasis on tiresome subplots ultimately confirming the film's place as a lesser Muppet adventure. The needlessly convoluted storyline details the chaos that ensues after Kermit is replaced by an evil doppelganger, with said doppelganger embarking on a quest to steal a valuable jewel alongside his nefarious partner (Ricky Gervais' Dominic Badguy) - while Kermit himself is sent to a tough Russian gulag guarded by a tough-as-nails guard named Nadya (Tina Fey). Before it runs out of steam, Muppets Most Wanted admittedly does hold a fair deal of promise - with the charm of the title characters compensating for what's clearly a second-tier narrative. It doesn't hurt, either, that the movie boasts an expectedly impressive assortment of cameo appearances, and there's little doubt that the movie, in its early stages, possesses an easygoing feel that's impossible to resist. (The songs, on the other hand, run the gamut from decent to utterly forgettable.) The affable atmosphere does begin to noticeably deflate past the halfway mark, however, as director and co-writer James Bobin attempts to prolong the proceedings far beyond its breaking point - which he and fellow scripter Nicholas Stoller accomplish by stressing a series of padded-out and unnecessary story threads. By the time the expectedly frenetic finale rolls around, Muppets Most Wanted has established itself as a passable yet underwhelming entry within the Muppets filmography - although, to be fair, it's clear that the movie will leave small children entertained to a far greater degree than adults.