"I GUESS people sorta forgot about us," says Kermit the Frog early in The Muppets. Like a lot of things Kermit says, that's (A) sad, and (B) true.
To be fair, it'd be impossible—for people my age, at least—to totally forget: For a generation raised on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies on TV, with tapes of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan in the VCR, Jim Henson's creations were surrogate friends, parents, and teachers. Not that you'd know it from the past 20 years: When Henson died in 1990, for most intents and purposes, so did the Muppets. They might've lurched on in so-so movies—and, following a Disney acquisition, some depressing Pizza Hut commercials—but as for the real Muppets? It's been awhile.
Which is what makes The Muppets so risky: On one hand, the audience is partly made up of nostalgia junkies who just want to see their old friends again. On the other, the main audience for this thing—kids—have no idea what a Kermit is.
Luckily, the team behind The Muppets—Forgetting Sarah Marshall's actor/writer Jason Segel and writer Nicholas Stoller, along with director James Bobin (The Flight of the Conchords, Da Ali G Show)—knows what made the Muppets great. And, as well as anyone who isn't named Jim Henson can, they've brought the Muppets back to something approaching their decades-old glory, while also introducing them to today's tiny, snot-nosed ingrates.
Just like in real life, The Muppets' characters have had better days: Kermit's living in a lonely mansion, surrounded by Muppet Show memorabilia; Fozzie's performing in Reno with a crappy Muppets cover band, the Moopets; Miss Piggy is editor of plus-size fashion at Vogue. (Gonzo, meanwhile, is the "richest plumbing magnate in the Rust Belt," Animal's in anger management, and Sam the Eagle is a cable news commentator.) But when a maniacally laughing tycoon (Chris Cooper) tries to take over the Muppets' long-abandoned studio, the gang reunites for one last variety show.
A joyless bastard could nitpick the hell out of The Muppets: The way Segel & Co. reintroduce the Muppets—via a new Muppet, Walter, and Walter's brother (Segel) and his fiancée (Amy Adams)—is clunky. The pacing's weird. There are two bits of painful Disney product placement (Cars 2 and Selena Gomez). And there's not enough Gonzo. But then, there's never enough Gonzo, and to focus on those complaints would be to ignore all that's right here: Kermit has a couple of heartbreakingly great and melancholy songs. Fantastic one-liners zip through the air. Fozzie's jokes are magnificently stupid. Segel, Adams, Cooper, and cameoing celebrities all have a phenomenal time. There are gleeful song-and-dance numbers. And the tone that defines the Muppets' best stuff—that blend of self-aware comedy, loveable characters, and bright-hearted optimism—is solidly in place. When it comes to the Muppets, that's what matters, and here it is.
Sorry we sorta forgot about you, Kermit. It's nice to have you back.