Over the Thanksgiving break, I took the kids to see The Muppets. As a longtime Muppet fan, I was so excited for this movie—the previews gave me hope that this was going to be the Muppets of my childhood, and not just some recognizable puppets in some other story. Don’t get me wrong—I like Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol well enough, but I’ve been longing for the Muppets of The Muppet Show and the original Muppet Movie. In an age where television was a treat, my whole family carved out time to watch The Muppet Show together and I have such fond memories of those times.
And The Muppets didn’t disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to seeing it again, this time with my dad.
With a little distance from the movie, though, I realized that it’s not that The Muppets is such a great movie. The reason I loved it so much is that it didn’t let me down. Movies are expensive both in time and money, and I only go see a handful of them every year. All too often something that I looked forward to lets me down, even if my expectations weren’t that high to begin with. This is especially true with sequels and adaptations of books since my expectations are already somewhat formed before I go see the movie. I want those movies to be worthy of how the story has been told before.
A few months back I talked about how I felt Cars 2 let my kids down. Even though I like Twilight and I still enjoy going to the movies with my best friend, I can’t help but feel that they’re inherently insulting to the audience. Plot and acting issues aside, the vampires are supposed to be stunningly beautiful. And they’re starting out with some pretty stunningly beautiful people. Yet somehow their makeup and wigs look like a student production on a shoestring budget. It distracts and annoys me and, if red-rimmed lids are any indication, also annoys the actors’ eyes. I can’t help but imagine a board room where people are saying, “These fools will go see any piece of crap we slap the Twilight name on—we’ll make more money if we slash the hair and makeup budget.”
The Muppets stands out because it doesn’t feel like that. As Richard Dansky points out on his blog, it feels like a love letter to the fans and to the Muppets themselves. They took the extra steps to add in pictures of Jim Henson in the background whenever possible. There are tons of in-jokes aimed at those of us who grew up watching The Muppet Show, while still ensuring that new fans won’t be left behind. I’m sure I’ll see even more little details when I go see it the second time. Even though it’s definitely not a perfect movie, I get the impression that it will stand up to multiple viewings because of all the love that obviously went into making it.
This isn’t to imply that there aren’t other lovingly made movies out there. Of course the Lord of the Rings stands out (we just finished watching that with the kids and it was wonderful to share such beautifully crafted movie making and story telling with them). While I may not agree with all the choices made, I felt justice was done with Harry Potter and, to a lesser extent, with the Chronicles of Narnia. But I can easily name more that let me down, such as the Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Last Airbender, and the Star Wars prequels. So much potential, so many poorly made movies.
I get that making movies is a business. The whole point is to make money. But when you sacrifice story telling so you can blow your budget on mind-blowing effects or count on the name to gloss over a multitude of movie-making sins, it’s insulting to the audience and disrespectful to books or movies that came before. We deserve better than that. And I’m so grateful to The Muppets for delivering that in their goofy way. I just wish it didn’t feel so unusual.