I was watching the Simpsons season finale (I know, I’m way behind) and something struck me as unusual. Am I the only one who sees a resemblance here?
If you couldn’t already tell, Jesse and I are huge fans of the Muppets. I can’t speak for Jesse on this, but in many ways the Muppet Show and the movies had a great influence on who I am today… namely the Chief Muppetologist for the state of Louisiana. If I had a nickle for every time I’ve seen “The Muppet Movie,” I’d have enough money for dinner for two at a mid-priced restaurant. I also have a comfortable sized collection of Muppet paraphernalia. It should therefore come as no surprise that I was first in the theater at a midnight showing of “The Muppets.” What follows is a quasi-review; I’ve tried to keep most of the rabid fanboy emotions at bay. The trick is that my editor (read: Jesse) is expecting a couple thousand words on the subject. That’s not an easy thing to do when you don’t want to write too many spoilers or sound to rantish.
Suffice it to say, I’ve been looking forward to the newest Muppet movie for a while. With any Muppet related news since the death of Jim Henson the enthusiasm is tempered with caution and trepidation. Athough “Muppet Christmas Carrol” came close, nothing since 1990 has fully captured the innocently insane essence of the Muppets.
“The Muppets” succeeds at capturing this spirit… for the most part. Segel and Stoller handle the muppet sensibility and variety of voices very well. And there are a ton of Muppets in this movie. The only noticable absences from the original show are Pops and Lips. The two screen writers know the Muppets and understand the characters and motivations. This goes a long way in making the movie watchable and enjoyable. There’s a lot for which to praise the duo; unfortunately, there are some criticism coming their way as well.
Praises first. While there are hues of the first Muppet movie throughout the plot, the tone leans more toward “The Great Muppet Caper.” The story is familiar and uncomplicated in the best ways possible. It balances the easy gag-laugh with a great deal of cleverness. Some of this cleverness stems from the characteristic breaking of the fourth wall through self-awareness; as always, the Muppets are blissfully self-aware. In addition to the characteristic destruction of the fourth wall, “The Muppets” has mostly inoffensive celebrity cameos spanning a wide and eclectic swath of Hollywood. It also has the characteristically non-villainous villain.
Chris Cooper’s Tex Richman isn’t as menacing and constant as Doc Hopper. His presence is reminiscent of Charles Grodin’s mustache twirling instead. The Moopets were also set up as villains. Though poorly utilized, they make hay with their time on screen with one of my favorite songs in the movie. Speaking of new characters, Walter works. Like Kermit in the original “Muppet Movie,” he is an innocent abroad, and he holds his own with the giants. We are essentially seeing these events unfold from Walter’s point of view. He presents everything as full of optimistic potential. It’s refreshing and sweet without being saccharine. I suspect Segal injected the best parts of himself into this character.
Equal praise should go to Bret McKenzie for the original songs in the movie. The song in the opening number and finale is eminently catch and Muppetesque. The lyrics are smartly funny when they need to be and heartwarming most of the time. The Moopet version of Rainbow Connection being among the strongest. In fairness though, if you’ve watched McKenzie’s Flight of the Conchords, some moments in several of the songs are going to sound highly reminiscent of that series. In addition to McKenzie’s orignal songs, are the outstanding interpretations of popular songs included during the Muppets’s telethon. The barbershop quartet especially would have fit nicely into the original show.
To the problems. The Walter/ Jason Segel dynamic is one of the biggest problems with the movie. As Michael Chabon so elegantly put it in Wonder Boys, writing is about making choices. Segel and Stoller were faced with several choices where they could have gone left or right with the story. Instead of doing either, they chose the weaker option to ride the middle passage. The first choice that the screenwriters faced was whether to set Walter or Segel’s character (Gary) as the protagonist. Because both are given the same A story (to decide who they want to be), Segel and Stoller cheat both characters out of any real deep connection to the audience or strong character arc. One or the other should have been the focus, choosing both seems ill conceived at best and self serving at worst.
The same issue arises in relation to the romantic B story. The romantic arc between Segel and Amy Adams is juxtaposed against a different sort of romantic arc between Kermit and Miss Piggy. I appreciate what was probably the intent and reasoning in doing this, but it didn’t work for me. That’s not to say that the romantic arcs in Muppet movies are typically deep and revelatory; both came off as the cheapest and weakest of low comedy.
The final problem is an overall symptom of the previous two. There is a noticeable emphasis on the Humans in this movie that we haven’t seen since the adaptation movies. It’s off putting that Segel and Adams dominate the first musical number and the first act. Adams has a song midway through the movie that she gracious shares (sort of) with Miss Piggy. Again there was an attempt to have the best of all worlds achieving the opposite.
All in all, these problems do not eclipse the care with which the Muppet voices were written orcleverness of both the script and the music. It is a good Muppet movie and probably on par with Christmas Carrol or Manhattan.
We’ve got another good batch of books this week. Last week I passed on the Red Robin and Batgirl one-shots because I was picking up so much other stuff. I don’t remember the last time that’s happened to me. And now let’s take a look at this week.
- BATMAN AND ROBIN #15 – I don’t even remember where we are with this one. That can’t be a good sign.
- BATMAN BEYOND #5 (OF 6) – On the other hand, the Hush Beyond arc here is really picking up steam. The big reveal wasn’t as surprising as I would have liked, but it makes sense. I just wish SOMEONE in the Bat-universe could get a happy ending. Sheesh.
- BRUCE WAYNE THE ROAD HOME CATWOMAN #1 and COMMISSIONER GORDON #1 – Like last week, these will depend on the creators involved and a flip test, but I’m game.
- CHAOS WAR #2 (OF 5) – Man, I really loved issue #1, and I’m glad Matt talked me into it. Don’t let anyone tell you “Event Fatigue” isn’t a real thing, especially if they’re working for a publisher putting out three (!) at the same time. But this book has all of the Herc madness we’ve come to love.
- MUPPET SHOW #11 – This is a good reminder that I haven’t read #10 yet. As always, this comes with the highest possible recommendation by both of us.
Last week’s Return of Bruce Wayne #5 proves that you can never, EVER say Grant Morrison doesn’t know what he’s doing, and to quote the big man (Bruce, not Grant) himself “The plot’s got a few holes, but I think it’s starting to make sense”. I suspect by the end we’ll get the answers to everything we’ve wanted to know about Dr. Hurt and the Waynes, and Thomas and Martha will return to their normal sainted status in the DCU.
In other review news, I was pleasantly surprised by Superior #1, and apologize to Mark Millar for calling it Superman when, in fact, it is Captain Marvel. Like with Nemesis, though, I still take issue with Millar’s boasts about creating new characters when he’s just rehashing old ones. He does it very well, but what’s the last truly original character he’s written?
That’s it for me this week. What are YOU looking at?
- IMAGE FIRSTS I KILL GIANTS #1 – I think I’ve heard good things about this one, so yeah, I’ll try it for a buck. Thanks Image.
- MUPPET SHOW #10 – Rather than blindly repeating myself about how good it is, here’s everything we’ve said about this book in the past. I’m sure it will all still apply.
- NEMESIS #3 (OF 4) – I’ve really been enjoying this book, even if the third issue is super-late. Was it always only 4 issues, though? That doesn’t sound right…
- SKULLKICKERS #1 – I dunno, why not? It’s only $3. (See how easy that is, Marvel and DC?)
Well, that was brief. Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet #2 from last week was brief, but great. It’s not very action-oriented, but it is hilarious. With that in mind I present the top 4 quotes from that issue.
- Doctor Doom – “As the only ruler of a sovereign nation to embark upon this journey,
DOOM shall take the coveted “shotgun” seat.”
- Spider-Man – “Wait. There’s ASTROcrows?” Ace (sadly) – “Not a day goes by I wish there WEREN’T…”
- Spider-Man – “Warp Factor 9, Mr. Spock!” Doom – “Sulu.”
- Ace – “That ain’t no space blimp. That’s a space ZEPPELIN.”
That’s it for me. What are YOU looking at?
After the abundance of last week, I shouldn’t be terribly disappointed that there’s so little I’m picking up this week. Still, there are some good books out, and it’ll give me the opportunity to rave about Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet. Here’s what I’m looking at this week.
- 1 FOR DOLLAR GOON – If you’ve been curious to check out The Goon but haven’t known where to start, here’s a good place. You cannot go wrong with this book for a dollar. And then once you’re hooked, pick up the Fancy Pants Edition hardcovers and get the whole thing in chronological order.
- BATMAN #702 – It can’t be a good sign that I remember #700 but not #701…I’m wondering if I missed it somewhere. But it’s Grant Morrison and it’ll be awesome, so you want this.
- MUPPET SHOW #9 – Roger Langridge is back on art duties on this book, and as much as I enjoyed Amy Mebberson’s arc, he was greatly missed. (I will say the opposite when the next arc starts, I’m sure.) This is the Muppet comic we’ve always needed but never had.
To harp more on cheap comics, kudos to Dark Horse for hopping on the dollar book bandwagon. They’re not all winners (I’m looking at you, Aliens vs Predator), but I took the plunge on last week’s issue of Hellboy and really, really enjoyed it. Part of it was John Byrne’s writing, but I found Mike Mignola’s art to be detailed, moody, and engrossing. I don’t know what in his art has driven me away in the past, but none of that was in the first issue of Hellboy.
One of my favorite comics ever is the original Infinity Gauntlet series, which came out just as I was getting into comics enough for everything to still be new and fresh, but after I had been reading long enough that I was still able to recognize who everyone was. I tend to be wary of coming back to it for fear it won’t be as good as I remember, but I read it again this weekend in order to give the new series an impossible goal to reach and it was still incredible, with wonderful scripting by Jim Starlin and amazing art by George Perez and Ron Lim.
With all of that preface out of the way, I LOVED the new issue. It streamlines the story, as these Marvel Adventures-style minis do, and gets burdensome continuity out of the way in order to focus on the event itself. There are some special and unexpected appearances, a great entrance by Dr. Doom, and high-stakes superheroing. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series, and Brian Clevinger’s story has convinced me to pick up his Atomic Robo work, so it’s a success in all ways.
That’s it for me this week. What are YOU looking at?
It’s a pretty disappointing week in terms of new comics this week. Here’s what I’m looking at.
- BUZZARD #2 (OF 3) – The story of The Goon’s Buzzard continues here. If you like The Goon, you know what you’ll be getting with this one.
- MUPPET SHOW #8 – The last story arc, featuring “Scooter’s sister” was great, and even though I never cared for Skeeter in the past I liked her here. I just can’t figure out what “story reason” they would have for not saying her name until the end of issue 7. Anyone who saw a certain early-80’s cartoon would already know who she was, and anyone who didn’t wouldn’t care. At any rate, The Muppet Show is hilarious, and a great example of stories that stand alone while still working as part of a larger arc. I just hope Roger Langridge does the art on this new story. As much as I love Mebberson’s art, Langridge conveys a wonderful sense of kinetic energy and claustrophobia in the Muppet Theater, and his panels always contain tons of background jokes.
Even though it’s a light week, I’ve picked up plenty of back issues this weekend that I’ll be catching up on, including the little-known yet strangely hard-to-find Flashpoint Elseworlds mini and wrapping up the Shed story from Amazing Spider-Man that everyone has been raving about.
I also just finished the first “season” of Sleeper, and while I won’t do a full review here, I will say that every good thing you’ve heard about this title is true and well-deserved.
That’s it for me. What are YOU looking at?