Mercifully, Jim Henson died nine years before Muppets In Space suffocated at the box office and consigned his beloved puppets to straight-to-DVD limbo. But more than a decade later, Jason Segel has stuck resuscitator paddles on their little furry chests and lovingly zapped them back to cinematic life.
Best known for hanging out with his wang out in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel teamed with a rude-boy gang to shove their hands up the Muppets: he penned the script with Get Him To The Greek writer-director Nicholas Stoller, Flight Of The Conchords strummer Bret McKenzie signed on to write the songs and Conchords director James Bobin was hired to call the shots.
But right from the funny opening montage that introduces us to small-town kid Gary (who grows up to be 6ft4in Segel) and his puppet brother Walter (who remains a 3ft rag-doll), The Muppets is an unexpected delight. Winking while remaining wide-eyed is a tough trick, but Segel’s movie pulls it off beautifully.
Smart but not smart-arsed, charming but not square, it’s an endearing balance of modern-day meta-wit and good old-fashioned sincerity.
Grabbing every cliché they can find and giving it a cheery, cheeky spin, Segel and Stoller’s screenplay sees Walter, Gary and his long-suffering girlfriend Mary (former Disney princess Amy Adams) assemble Kermit (chilling in his mansion), Fozzie Bear (slumming in tribute lounge-act The Moopets), Animal (anger management) and the rest of the gang for their showbiz comeback to raise the $10m they need to save Muppet Studios from evil oilman Chris Cooper (“Maniacal laugh! Maniacal laugh!”).
Irony has never felt less cynical. And if it’s a scrap of a movie, Segel knows it: they’re putting on a show here. The Muppets is so bright, bouncy and full of irreverent touches that the bumbling story hardly matters.
A bit of tedium does kick in – Mary’s frustration that Gary won’t propose, Walter’s stage fright – but even then, we’re never too far away from a song, a dance or a cameo.
Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Black, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney, The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons... They just keep coming.
Best moment? Hard to choose. Miss Piggy revealed as the diva editor of French Vogue, assisted by Emily Blunt reprising her The Devil Wears Prada role? McKenzie’s Oscar-winning ballad ‘Man Or Muppet’? Or maybe vaude-villain Cooper busting out a rap (with sing-a-long subtitles!) so bizarre that we still can’t quite believe it actually happened?