“We’re trying to get the old gang back again!” croaks Kermit the Frog, setting the stage for an endearing revival of the once-lucrative but recently-neglected puppet franchise started by Jim Henson. “The Muppet Show” ran on TV for five seasons (1976-1981) and spawned several spin-offs.
In idyllic 1950’s Smalltown, USA, Gary (Jason Segal) and his sweetheart Mary (Amy Adams) celebrate their chaste, 10-year relationship by taking Gary’s inseparable younger brother Walter, who doesn’t realize he’s a Muppet, to Los Angeles to visit Muppet Studios. After discovering that an evil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), intends to tear down the dilapidated facility to dig for oil, Gary and Walter are determined to find Kermit and round-up his old crew for a $10 million fund-raiser.
Kermit’s retired to the cavernous Bel-Air mansion he once shared with diva-like Miss Piggy, who left for Paris to edit French Vogue; Fozzie Bear’s cracking bad jokes with a Muppets tribute band in Reno, Nevada; Gonzo’s a plumbing magnate; and Animal’s learning anger management.
“In this market, you guys are no longer relevant,” decrees a TV executive (Rashida Jones). But when an emergency leaves a programming hole, it’s “show time” once again, as The Muppets kidnap Jack Black for their telethon. Conquering stage-fright, Walter discovers his own special talent as an operatic whistler.
Written by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, who collaborated on “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and directed by British James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords,” Da Ali G Show”), it’s an upbeat reboot of “The Rainbow Connection,” chock full of moving nostalgic moments and high-spirited musical numbers, like “Life’s a Happy Song,” “Me Puppet” and “Man or Muppet?” While the creative cameos are fun, it’s unfortunate that Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson can’t take the place of Jim Henson and Frank Oz as the voices of Kermit and Miss Piggy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge, “The Muppets” is a sweet, silly, smiling 7. It’s fuzzy, family-friendly fare, accompanied by “Small Fry,” a new “Toy Story” short involving a support group for discarded toys at a fast-food restaurant.