Movies, News, Pop Culture

Jason Segel: Muppets Canon Gets an Update

Amelia Kreminski :: Thursday, June 10th, 2010 6:00 pm

Since 1979, The Muppets have been gracing the silver screen with their fuzzy, strangely colored faces and open-mouthed grins. Come Christmas Day 2011, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (veterans of many Judd Apatow productions) will unveil the latest Muppet creation, a feature-length film brazenly entitled The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time!!!. You may ask, Why another Muppet movie? Haven’t there been, like, nine or something already? The answer is yes. But this one, besides obviously being cool enough to warrant not one, but three exclamation points in the title, has some new tricks up its sleeve.

Segel proved his puppet-wielding chops in the 2008 film Forgetting Sarah Marshall when his character Peter performed a haunting Dracula puppet musical which eventually won the heart of his estranged lover Rachel (puppet shows are the key to any girl’s heart). Besides starring Segel, the new Muppet film will include cameos from Sean Penn, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Ben Stiller and Anne Hathaway, with James Bobin of Flight of the Conchords directing.

Rumor has it, the 2011 movie will feature a new Muppet, as well as a titillating (and rather timely) battle between the Muppets and an oil tycoon with evil schemes of drilling beneath their theater. Over the years, Muppet movies have always been filled with peril, suspense, and victory — Kermit has stood by his fans, both young and old, as a kind of beacon of truth, perhaps… Well, no, that’s probably going too far. But we all know these movies are cool. Here’s a brief history of past misadventures and capers of the Muppet gang:

Back in 1979, they fought the good fight in The Muppet Movie. Kermit, that talented frog, is discovered one day as a musical genius while playing banjo on his porch. During the journey to Hollywood to make it big, he encounters the terrifyingly charming Southern gentleman and frog leg magnate Doc Hopper, who pursues Kermit as the new face of his company. Okay, this isn’t too crazy, unless you really think about it. But when you do really think about it, you realize: what kind of sick bastard would make Kermit sell his own fried legs?! The same sick bastard who made Steve Martin wear these tiny shorts.

In 1981 came The Great Muppet Caper. In this story, Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo play the part so many of us here at Death+Taxes know all too well — the haggard journalist, on the road in the baggage hold of a plane to London, just trying to find some fashion designer’s stolen jewelry. If I had a nickel…

By 1984 Kermit and his friends have finally graduated from college (wait, what the fuck? Kermit has had a successful career as a banjo player and investigative reporter before graduating from college? And here I thought my 3.9 was something to be proud of…) They take their college variety show to New York City to make it big on Broadway in The Muppets Take Manhattan, but are faced only with the crippling death grip of this damn city’s cost of living. They run out of money, Kermit gets amnesia, Fozzie goes to Maine to hibernate… the usual stuff. But Miss Piggy and Kermit finally tie the knot so everyone gets a happy ending.

In 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol came out — the first Muppet movie released after Muppet creator Jim Henson died. Sure, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has been done to death by every imaginable cast in every imaginable form (I mean, once something gets interpreted even as a live action musical puppeteering feature I think it’s safe to say everyone has done it). But the Muppets can take even an overwrought classic like this and turn it into a fresh-faced adventure. No, who am I kidding, nothing Muppet-related can be called a fresh-faced adventure — maybe a more appropriate term would be twisted, probably drug-induced hour and a half of insanity.

Muppet Treasure Island came in 1996 and featured the familiar characters (Kermit, Fozzie, Sam, Miss Piggy) playing parts in a rendition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The movie is basically 19th century Scottish literature viewed through the lens of fuzzy animals who sing and enjoy slapstick humor. Who wouldn’t like that, really? It’s like those Classics Illustrated series, where you could read Great Expectations in like 5 minutes by looking at amusing illustrations. Conclusion: Jim Henson and Co. are probably geniuses.

In 1999 Kermit and friends embarked on a journey called Muppets in Space. And yes, it was spatial — but in the end this story really came down more to an existential question. Gonzo finally realizes what everyone else has been thinking for years (what the fuck is this guy? A hook-nosed parrot? Some sort of weird, hybrid rodent?) and has an identity crisis, decides he is alone in the world, and climbs to his rooftop to contemplate the bleakness of existence. Naturally, a lightning bolt strikes him and a pair of cosmic fish tell him that in fact he is an alien — mad adventures follow, filled with aliens, talking sandwiches and jacuzzis. Obviously, the people who wrote this were on acid.

In 2002 possibly the weirdest Jim Henson concoction to date came out in the form of It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. Why would I argue that this is the strangest of all Muppet films? A number of reasons. Though they parody the classic Christmas tale It’s A Wonderful Life (makes sense), they also parody Cirque du Soleil, Moulin Rouge, Steve Irwin’s Crocodile Hunter, and A Beautiful Mind (nope, doesn’t make sense at all). Due to financial hardship, Rizzo decides to go on an episode of Fear Factor. Miss Piggy has a Jamaican accent. David Arquette is Kermit’s angel. I think you get the point.

The Muppet’s Wizard of Oz, which came out in 2005, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, but was disparaged by critics for being “too mature for young audiences.” Really? I would’ve thought by now critics would just kind of let anything fly with these movies. I’m not sure what exactly made this film so “mature,” but if you decide to see it I would definitely suggest getting the extended version, which features a cameo by Quentin Tarantino, in which he plays himself, and discusses various ways to slay the Wicked Witch of the West with Kermit.

The last muppet movie made came out in 2008 and was, yet again, a Christmas film. This one was entitled A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, and was, by all past standards, actually incredibly bland. The Muppets try to send their letters to Santa but they accidentally don’t mail them all… That’s it? And then Uma Thurman gives them some tickets to the North Pole but Nathan Lane as a policeman catches them and gives them trouble? Come on, who hasn’t been caught by Nathan Lane?

And so we come to 2010, and the promise of yet another Muppet-filled movie. All I can say is, sure Jason Segel, you’re cool, but you have got a whole lot to live up to here. You better not screw us over like Tim Burton did when he remade Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or something. Also, I’ve read some things about other celebrities making it into this movie and… It would probably be kind of amazing if you cast Christian Bale.