Amy Adams. Jason Segel. Rashida Jones. Jack Black. Chris Cooper. Donald Glover. Alan Arkin. Zach Galifianakis. Whoopi Goldberg. Dave Grohl. Sarah Silverman. John Krasinski. Selena Gomez. Neil Patrick Harris. Kristen Schaal. Kermit the Frog. While this stacked, star-studded lineup may seem like a mixed bag, it’s the real cast of “The Muppets,” the faithful-to-its-source-material yet fresh film that celebrates its 10th anniversary this November.
You may be asking yourself, why celebrate this anniversary at all? Sure, “The Muppets” is good, but is it really a film that begs to be reexamined a decade down the line? Personally, my answer is “yes.” “The Muppets” has become one of my favorites, joining the rotation of my “comfort films” that are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face every watch. Not only is it an excellent, upbeat movie on its own, it’s a genuine addition to a beloved property — a rarity in an entertainment industry oversaturated with cash grabs masqueraded as bland reboots. This is largely thanks to the creators involved with the project itself, both of whom clearly exhibited a deep love for the Muppets.
Jason Segel, best known at the time for his roles in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “How I Met Your Mother,” was a lifelong fan of the Muppets and was very interested in aiding them in their return to the silver screen and was shocked that Disney had not done anything with them since purchasing the property in 2004. After years of meeting with Disney executives and even going so far as to speak about making a movie on late-night talk shows just to put some pressure on the company (a “dirty strategy,” according to Segel), “The Muppets” was greenlit. Segel was set to co-write the film and James Bobin, co-creator of “Flight of the Conchords” and fellow Muppet fan, was slated to direct.
“We set out to make a Muppet movie that harkened back to the late-’70s, early-’80s Muppets that we grew up with,” Segel said on NPR’s Fresh Air. “I had the opportunity to work with my childhood idols, and I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. So I set out to make that happen.”
“When I came onto this job,” Bobin told WIRED. “I said that I’d only consider doing it if we could stay with the simple idea that Jim Henson had in 1954 of having a camera, a puppet, and a monitor. When you see Kermit onscreen, you want to be able to see this beautiful bright green felt.”
And they did just that. “The Muppets” pays earnest homage to its predecessors with its simple yet extremely meta plot. The film follows devoted Muppet fanatic Walter (voiced and puppeteered by Peter Linz), along with his older brother Gary (Segel), and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), as they set out to help Kermit reunite the disbanded Muppet crew to put on one last show and save Muppet Theatre from the clutches of evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). As stated earlier, the movie is chock-full of cameos, true to the nature of “The Muppet Show” and its impressive range of celebrity guests. In addition to this, it also keeps the familiar, odd yet charming nature of the Muppets intact with plenty of fourth wall breaks, silly stunts, musical mastery and “waka wakas.”
While the film is jam-packed with self-aware quips, the most true-to-life commentary lies within the plot, which sees the Muppets on an indefinite hiatus and worlds away from one another at the beginning of the film. Before “The Muppets” movie came out in 2011, they hadn’t appeared together on film since “Muppets in Space,” which was released 12 years earlier. There surely were plenty of people (both in reality and in fiction) who didn’t miss the Muppets during their time away. However, those who did certainly longed for a time when they would return. This of course makes Walter an analogue of Segel, as both of them were determined to get the gang back together for at least one more spectacular show.
“The Muppets” also keeps the magic alive with its music selection, which refreshingly blends the new with the old. A contemporary needle drop of CeeLo Green’s “Forget You” is followed by a nostalgic performance of “Rainbow Connection,” which is bound to make any devoted fan shed a tear or two. Bret McKenzie, half of “Flight of the Conchords,” also penned four original tracks for the movie — “Life’s a Happy Song,” “Me Party,” “Let’s Talk About Me” and “Man or Muppet”— and each song is as catchy and fun as the last.
“Man or Muppet” went on to win the Oscar for best original song at the 84th Academy Awards and to this day remains popular on the internet, living on in niche meme form on TikTok (as all things eventually will). The sound has amassed millions of views, inspiring a text thread challenge and causing some to question their own identities in a fashion similar to Walter and Gary. It even inspired a parody track titled “Lady or Rat,” which also performed well online. If you haven’t had the absolute pleasure of encountering the sound on your own feed, you can listen to it here. Most recently, some have even confessed to the fact that “Man or Muppet” will likely show up toward the top of their 2021 Spotify Wrapped playlists, since the song is just too good to be skipped.
“The Muppets” is a true love letter to Jim Henson’s work, a passion project made by those who truly understood his vision and his characters. It opened to critical acclaim (holding a Certified Fresh 95% on Rotten Tomatoes to this day) and was adored by children and adults alike. Even a decade later, its pure dedication to its source material shines through, and it should serve as a prime example for studios of what to do when adapting a property: Stay true to everything that made the original so grand.