Monday, December 5, 2011
The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011) -- C+
Having never seen a single episode of The Muppet Show, I am likely not the best person to critique a film featuring the same characters, many of whom I am unfamiliar with. In fact, I grew up with The Muppet Christmas Carol more than any other Muppet affair and, thus, when Kermit the Frog first appears in The Muppets, I half wanted to call him Bob Cratchit. Little of any said prior knowledge ultimately seems to matter, however, since writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller essentially begin tabula rasa, with a new Muppet named Walter and brother Gary (Segel), the pair setting off for Los Angeles with Gary's squeeze Mary (Amy Adams) to both see the Muppet's old studio and celebrate the couple's tenth anniversary. Of course, the film reintroduces many old faces, inserts countless cameos, and proceeds with an admirable degree of zest and self-awareness, if the latter becomes slightly grating. Nevertheless, amidst all of the singing, dancing, and charm, lies a greater sense of requisite commercialism, particularly in the film's inherent plea to rekindle old (consumerist) flames. Add another nostalgia piece to a seemingly endless 2011 laundry list, though The Muppets is by no means the most despicable offender, if only because its effervescent satirical impulses often eradicate the unspoken glamorization of branding. However, in one of the lamest decisions of the year, Disney chooses to insert a billboard not once, but twice, for Cars 2, as to coincide with that film's DVD/Blu-Ray release a little over a month ago. The well-oiled merchandising machine steadily chugs along and just like with nearly any Pixar entry (ironically, excluding Cars 2), the culture appears to abide. Let's look at it like this; Disney releases Tron: Legacy last fall, their first piece in reconstructing their attempted retrograde puzzle - they are out to literally make the old new again, with the post-conversion 3D of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. The Lion King 3D already raked in close to $100M, and now The Muppets comes along as further primer, to solidify the (false) need, the desire for "old friends," as Kermit puts it. Were Disney not planning to re-sell their products to susceptible children/consumers, the underlying message would simply be capitalist. Nothing wrong with that. Yet, knowing what Disney has coming down the line, The Muppets becomes deceptive and disingenuous, regardless that Segel worked on the film for a reputed four years. These intentions don't matter when they are subsumed. No one escapes the jaws of string-pulling authoritarianism - not even The Muppets.