Mon 19 Nov 2012
One of the songs in the first part of this comeback tentative of The Muppets is called ‘Can We Do It Again?’. To some extent it resumes the story and the history of this film. The story because the film is about the legendary Muppets getting together 30 years after in order to save the studios from being acquired and turned to something else by a heartless tycoon. The history because the same question can be asked by the viewers, some of them trying to find back the charm of the original shows into their memories, other completely new to the concept, which may have led to a multitude of replicas and sequels but also had its own charm, value, humor which I am not sure can really be reborn ‘as is’. At least not in James Bobin’s version.
I was a great fan of The Muppets. In the 70s and early 80s, under the direction of Jim Henson the show was capable of bringing into its 20-25 minutes of nonsense some of the best performers of the period, from Harry Belafonte to Joan Baez. Unfortunately the version realized by the Disney Studios rarely raises over the level of a musical for kids, and the worst thing it that it does not aim much higher. I should have suspected, as I can hardly remember any good coming out of the Disney brand that was not created by Disney himself. His followers seem to have embraced a puritan approach to kids and teenager culture, but Disney’s world of ferries was much more than kids entertainment, it was great story telling, it was sharp humor close to cruelty sometimes, it was a whole universe of cultural references, it was art daring to push the limits. Staying beyond the limits of the Disney universe of the 50s is the great mistake the studio and the style they embraced ever made. Their acquiring of the Muppets brand from the inheritors of Jim Henson Sr. may be the mortal hit to the concept, at least if we are to judge after this 2011 production.
Nothing or almost nothing of the old show charm is on screen for this production. Music is mostly banal, humor almost absent, the characters as they slowly get back together seem all to be playing the role of the two old guys in the gallery rather then their own roles. I wonder how Jack Black accepted to play in this film. Oh, yes, I forgot, he was kidnapped, tied and forced to put a show on stage! And he is not credited (why? really!). Or maybe he was just a kid by the time the original show was run, watching it and dreaming to be a star in it, and ready to do anything to become one. As a grown up he could have skipped this film.