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Muppets make warm and fuzzy return to big screen

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It’s funny how easy one can forget a famous icon or a pop culture phenomenon. Does anybody even remember William Hung or what song he infamously massacred? Feed your Tamagotchi lately? For a long period of time, the same tragic fate lay upon the Muppets.

The Muppets make a welcome big-screen return. Photo via Walt Disney Pictures.

I wasn’t alive yet for their apex, 1979’s “The Muppet Movie,” but I did grow up celebrating every Christmas with “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” Unfortunately, my lone theatrical experience with Jim Henson’s fuzzy friends was the bland “Muppets From Space,” in 1999.

Luckily, thanks to the efforts of writer/producer/star Jason Segel, “The Muppets” makes that galactic flop a thing of the past and its furry stars relevant again.

The film follows Gary (Jason Segel) and his Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) as they come upon a nefarious plot to tear down the old Muppet Theater in order to drill for oil. The only solution is to wrangle together all of the Muppets, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, for one last big fundraising show. Along for the ride is the perpetually adorable Amy Adams as Gary’s girlfriend, Mary, as well as dozens of celebrity cameos.

The plot is merely serviceable, keeping the movie going while providing ample room for lively song numbers and clever fourth wall-breaking jokes. It does sound exceptionally reminiscent of an episode of “Saved by the Bell,” as well as Disney’s deservedly forgotten “The Country Bears” movie.

Thankfully, “The Muppets” distracts from its flimsy plot with a witty script and cheerful performances, both human and puppet. Segel, known more for his R-rated film comedies such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” keeps the heart-warming sincerity that makes him a likeable screen presence.

His script, co-written with Nicholas Stoller, is just as sincere and clever. The movie is loaded with self-aware jokes but not enough that the audience gets tired of the persistent winking. At the end of a massive, town-wide dance number, the background dancers crumble to the ground, exhausted from having to keep up with the stars’ peppiness. Emily Blunt recreates her famously snide role from “The Devil Wears Prada” for a fun cameo.

As expected with any comedy, not all of the jokes hit their marks. A running gag involving the villainous Chris Cooper’s laugh feels like forced goofiness, which can also be said for his brief-but-not-brief-enough rap number, complete with sing-a-long lyrics.

At some point, however, the film’s general innocence and fun-loving sensibility wins over any gripes. During the end of the Muppets’ telethon show, a gaggle of chickens balks their way through Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” On paper, the gag seems too absurd and childish to even draw a smile, but on the screen, it’s comedic gold. And if the karaoke chickens are rich with laughs, then the ’80s robot is diving into an ocean of laughter, Scrooge McDuck-style.

Of course, a Muppet movie would be nothing without musical numbers. Music supervisor Bret McKenzie wrote several new songs for the film, and his experience with the New Zealand duo Flight of the Conchords fits perfectly with the Muppets’ goofy earnestness. Some of the smaller musical bits, such as Adams’ brief ballad during the opening number, “Life’s A Happy Song,” are less memorable than others. It’s all worth it, though, to watch Segel and Walter hilariously attempt to integrate a lyric about filets of fish into their number.

That being said, Segel is clearly not much of a dancer. He spends most “Life’s A Happy Song” standing in front of the background dancers, feigning the footsteps. His goofy smile and sly comedic delivery, however, goes a long way.

Much like last year’s “Toy Story 3,” “The Muppets” is unapologetic in taking advantage of audiences’ nostalgia. The movie even starts with a Toy Story short about Happy Meal toys, an aspect of fast food dining that instantly commenced childhood flashbacks to eagerly awaiting which Beanie Baby would come in my McDonalds bag. Just like the small fuzzy fast food creatures, “The Muppets” is light, fun and simply too cute to hate.

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