Whether you've been familiar with the Muppets for 40 years or just heard about them yesterday, it won't matter either way. If you want to laugh, be absolutely delighted and have the most carefree and cheerful fun you've had at the movies in recent memory, "The Muppets" is for you. Their last big-screen presence was 1999's "Muppets in Space," and it hardly feels relevant now to mention that considering this shining reunion of the international superstar puppet characters. The one question for Disney could be, well, why now? Why now after more than a decade would you bring back the Muppets for a reunion? Maybe it's a sign of the times. Maybe it's the perfect thing we all needed but never realized. I would say that is exactly right.
The movie opens outwardly acknowledging that the Muppets are no longer cool, and they haven't been part of what's cool in pop culture for a long time. It's in this wicked self-awareness where the film gains its modest warmth and cheeky attitude. With its nerdy out-of-it humor that is referential and self-deprecating combined with other moments that are quite hip and knowing, the Muppets strike a new chord -- one that will please fans both old and new. Consider for a moment a curse-free chicken version of Cee Lo Green's "F*** You." It's there, and it charms right in sync with the rest of the movie's bright and funny musical numbers.
So, the Muppets have been disbanded with their movies and TV shows all in the past. There's still a fan out there who misses them dearly, though, and his name is Walter. He is a little guy who happens to very, very closely resemble what some may consider a Muppet. But is he a Muppet? He sure has felt rather displaced as a person. His brother is a human, and his name is Gary (Jason Segel of "How I Met Your Mother"). As brothers they have been lifelong pals, and it poses a bit of a problem for Gary's girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams in full-on whimsical "Enchanted" mode), who sometimes feel as if she can't get any alone time. Gary plans a trip to Hollywood with Mary for their anniversary and invites Walter along because one of the stops is to the old Muppets Studio.
They arrive at the studio, however, only to discover that it's been long abandoned and even tours are hardly running. Walter then stumbles across some devastating news. A cruel millionaire, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper having a blast as the meanie), wants to buy the Muppets Studio to tear it down and drill for oil. Walter, Gary and Mary decide they must do something to save the studio and the Muppet name. First comes finding Kermit the Frog who agrees to putting on one last show to raise money. Pulling the rest of the Muppets out of retirement proves no easy feat. The group cleverly travels "by map" as a red line crossing the Atlantic with their car emerging from the ocean on the shoreline of Cannes. France was a key destination because over the years Miss Piggy became the head editor at Vogue in Paris.
Goofy and sincere Muppet fan Jason Segel not only stars but also co-wrote the script directed by James Bobin ("Da Ali G Show," "Flight of the Conchords"). Segel's love for the Muppets is easy to see because nothing about bringing back this franchise feels opportunistic -- it's all from the heart. It's a colorful revitalization of the old troupe that is a labor of love, and such hope and wish-fulfillment oozes from the screen and creeps inside as you watch. You'll crack a smile from the opening scene, and it won't go away.
"The Muppets" is also bursting to the seams with cameos from big celebrities. The energy from everyone involved is joyous, positive and constantly sending out good vibes. The Muppets present a return to simplicity -- simpler, less cynical times when song and dance could bring people together, when all you needed was a hearty dose of "Mahnamahna" or for Kermit to break out the heartwarming "Rainbow Connection." And you feel it; you can feel the energy and the sense of collaboration on something feel-good and meaningful, something inspirational and more important than you might ever imagine from a gang of puppet characters. This is one of the best movies of the year.