Year 7, Day 275 - 10/2/15 - Movie #2,167
BEFORE: This may seem a bit jarring, to go from a mystery thriller to a Muppet film - but hey, don't blame me, I didn't cast Ray Liotta in both films. He was also in "Muppets in Space", so clearly he's got an "in" with the Muppet people. And I can knock off a couple of kiddie films here before getting back to more serious films, and then the Halloween chain.
THE PLOT: While on a grand world tour, the Muppets film themselves wrapped up in a European jewel heist caper, headed by a Kermit look-alike and his dastardly sidekick.
FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Muppets" (Movie #1,329), "Muppets From Space" (Movie #1,473)
AFTER: Well, this film just breaks all the rules - but a comedy can break more rules than a dramatic film does, as long as part of the comedy comes from acknowledging that a rule is being broken. For example, Kermit is replaced by a his evil twin, who happens to be a criminal mastermind. If that happened in a serious film, or even on a soap opera, and it wasn't being played for laughs, it would be difficult to believe - it would take you right out of the film's reality and remind you that you're watching a film, just because of how unlikely it would be. Two people who look alike, sound alike, yet are total opposites - unless they were separated at birth, you'd never believe it, even if the film was riffing off of "The Prince and the Pauper", and pointed out how unlikely it was.
But here, such a plot point is fair game - because it's funny. And Constantine, Kermit's doppelganger, sounds nothing like him, he's got a thick Eastern European accent - a fact that the other characters either don't notice or don't care about. What's going on is completely obvious to the audience, and the disconnect created is the source of the humor. Similarly, any time the Muppets talk to the camera, or act aware that they're in a movie ("Hey, we did that plot in the last film.") it shouldn't be allowed, because again, it messes with the suspension of disbelieft. But, those things are also funny here, so I can't really complain.
In fact, the film is pretty much nitpick-proof. So what if Tina Fey has a horrible Russian accent, it's still funny. So what if no one notices that the villain's last name is "Badguy"? It's funny that they don't care. So what if there's no more Soviet Union, and this film still uses the old hammer-and-sickle emblems everywhere? It's not like anyone in the U.S. knows that much about Russia anyway.
Once again, my timing worked out great, because the Muppets are suddenly hot again, with a new series on ABC. I watched the first two episodes the night before last, and I've got a few quibbles with it, but not the ones that you might think. The show recently came under fire for having some fairly adult jokes, with some parents complaining that topics like pre-marital sex and inter-species relationships were being discussed on a "kids" show. The best jokes in things like this work on two levels, with kids taking them one way and parents taking them another way - or if that's not possible, then having jokes that kids won't understand, but parents will.
There was a joke Fozzie made on the show about "what bears do in the woods" - that would only be funny if you've heard the vulgar expression about that before. If you're a small child and you haven't heard the phrase, you might wonder what it is that bears do in the woods, but it won't be outright funny. So if a kid laughs at that, it means he's heard the phrase before, and that's the parent's fault, not the show's. If anything the parents should be mad at their kids' loss of innocence, which they probably bear some responsibility for.
No, the problem I have is that it's done in the style of "The Office" and a number of other mock reality shows, where we see the behind-the-scenes workings of a talk show, hosted by Miss Piggy. I think it's a mistake to assume that the audience is going to be more fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes of a fake show, rather than what's on the fake show itself. The original "Muppet Show" struck a 50/50 (or so) balance, showing us what went on backstage at the Muppet theater, but also what was taking place on the stage itself. We need to see more of the show-within-the-show, otherwise it feels less like entertainment and more like just watching Muppets work.
My other problem, and this is with the Muppets in general, is that they just don't sound like they did when I was a kid. Oh, sure, I know that no one's ever going to perfectly imitate the late Jim Henson's voice, so if you're from my generation, then Kermit's always going to sound a bit off. The same is true for the Looney Tunes characters, after Mel Blanc died they were never quite the same, no matter who they hired for the voices. I think if you can't get Frank Oz back to do Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear on a regular basis, I wonder if it's worth doing. I found Miss Piggy's lines in particular to be very difficult to understand, both in the new ABC show and in "Muppets Most Wanted".
But I understand that the Muppets are a Disney franchise now, and a franchise needs to move forward or it's considered dead in the water.
Also starring Ricky Gervais (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), Ty Burrell (last seen in "The Skeleton Twins"), Tina Fey (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Jemaine Clement (last seen in "Men in Black 3"), the voices of Steve Whitmire (last heard in "Muppets from Space"), Dave Goelz (ditto), Bill Barretta (ditto), Peter Linz (ditto), Eric Jacobson (last heard in "The Muppets"), Matt Vogel (ditto), David Rudman, with cameos from Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Sean Combs (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek"), Rob Corddry (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "Birdman"), Josh Groban, Salma Hayek (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Tom Hiddleston (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World"), Tom Hollander (last heard in "A Liar's Autobiography"), Toby Jones (last seen in "The Adventures of Tintin"), Frank Langella (last seen in "All Good Things"), James McAvoy (last seen in "The Last King of Scotland"), Chloe Grace Moretz (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Usher, Miranda Richardson (last seen in "Get Carter"), Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo (last seen in "Six Days Seven Nights"), Stanley Tucci (last seen in "The Fifth Estate"), Christoph Waltz (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2").
RATING: 6 out of 10 raging bulls