It’s been a long time since The Muppets were a cultural phenomena. In the 1970s and 1980s, The Muppet Show lit up many a household. When it first aired in 1976, many people questioned if a show about puppets would find an audience among adults. Back then, creator Jim Henson called in favors to get stars, but it didn’t take long for many of the pop culture icons to ask to appear on the show: Paul Simon, Elton John, the cast of Star Wars. The 1980s brought us The Muppet Babies cartoon series as well as the movie spinoffs until the Muppets faded into obscurity. The current pop culture waters, however, are being properly chummed for their comeback.
The Muppets movie picks the story up with the Muppets biggest fan, Walter (himself a Muppet), and his his friends Gary (Jason Segel, both a huge fan and the screenplay writer) and Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA. They travel to Los Angeles on vacation where Walter overhears oilman Tex Richman’s (Chris Cooper) plan to tear down the old Muppet Theatre so that he can drill for oil. Walter and company search for Kermit—who has been living in and old mansion along with his memories of the old gang—in the hopes that he can hatch a plan to save the theater. In a plot recalling The Blues Brothers, they opt to put the band back together, in this case to host The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever to raise the $10 million needed to stop the oilman’s plan.
The rest of the gang has gone their own way, mostly toiling in the shadow of their former glory. Fozzie now performs with a tribute band called the Moopets; Animal is in residence for anger management; Gonzo has become a plumbing tycoon; Miss Piggy has become a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris.
“A hard, cynical act for a hard, cynical world.” –Tex Richman
The real plot (and test for the movies) seems to be whether or not they can get people to care about the Muppets again. It has been so long that people have forgotten about them. An entire generation doesn’t know who they are. We live in a world without Muppets, a world that has forgotten Tab and Real Coke. It has moved on, and The Muppets may be too irrelevant, too happy, and too heartwarming, mistakenly dismissed as schmaltzy. Which would be a mistake.
The Muppets represent a childlike innocence, but also the resiliency of hope. That things don’t have to be dark and cynical in order to be relevant. That there can be humor that neither talks down nor denigrates others. That fun can still be had without the need to wade through a cesspool. Being nice feels like a throwback to an earlier age.
“Just because you haven’t found your talent yet doesn’t mean you don’t have one.” –Kermit
One of the overarching themes of The Muppets is the journey Walter takes in order to discover who he is meant to be. It’s a journey we all have to take. To recognize that we are all eikons, image-bearers of God: worthy of respect, value, and love. We participate in the Divine Being, meant to partake in the Divine Life and Happiness. We were created in love, for love, and are to open ourselves to the possibility of love. Our “fallenness” becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. But there is hope, as we seek wholeness, being restored in all the dimensions of humanity. And in that grace, we’re moved toward outward expression, joining our talents with the Kingdom of God as we pursue a mission of reconciliation, of restoration.
“Even the sunniest days can have a few clouds in them.” –Walter
The Muppets serves as a coming out party (or better yet, a welcome back) for The Muppets. It would be easy for it to skate by on nostalgia while striving for relevance in a new generation, yet it manages to feel updated without succumbing to the pressure to become “relevant” (read: edgy). This movie is for parents who grew up with the Muppets as they introduce their children to them. A whole new generation of stars pop up in this movie: Jack Black, John Krasinski, and Selena Gomez to name a few. Keeping their fingers on the pulse of pop culture, The Muppets cover several songs from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Cee Lo’s “Forget You.” The movie plays to its strengths, with the Muppets being silly, innocent, and chaotic, in other words, like children running amuck. It’s good to see The Muppets again, but let’s not wait another generation to show up.