The Muppets (2011)


No Drums!  No Drums!  Jack Black Said No Drums!

The impetus behind my decision to pull this movie out of a RedBox was the nagging of the inner child I had thought I had killed years ago.  That little bastard and I had a battle many years ago where I left him for dead, bleeding like a stuck Miss Piggy.  It turns out he had been nursing his wounds, waiting for the right moment to shoot himself out of a cannon and back into my heart.  When today’s movie came out in theaters, I started getting threatening messages with letters cut out of magazines that never really amounted to anything.  Today, when this movie came out on DVD, he knew this was his chance to strike.  That really strange story aside, I rented today’s movie from a RedBox and decided to give it a shot to live up to the love I had for this crew in my youth.  Today’s movie is The Muppets, written by Jim Henson, Jason Segel, and Nicholas Stoller, directed by James Bobin, and starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Donald Glover, Dave Grohl, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, and Sarah Silverman, the voices of Peter Linz, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Tyler Bunch, Alice Dinnean, and Jerry Nelson, and notable cameos by James Carville, Bill Cobbs, Feist, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Rico Rodriguez, and Mickey Rooney.

Walter (Peter Linz) and Gary (Jason Segel) are brothers that live in a small town called … Smalltown.  But Walter was born with a birth defect of sorts that makes him a Muppet.  Because of this, Gary and Walter become big fans of the Muppet Show.  When they grow up, Gary is preparing to go on vacation to LA with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and surprises Walter by taking him with them.  While in LA, they visit the abandoned Muppet studio.  Walter sneaks into the office of Kermit the Frog and finds out that Statler (Steve Whitmire) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz) are selling the theater to oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who intends to demolish it and drill for oil beneath the studio.  Walter, Gary, and Mary manage to convince Kermit to get the band back together to raise $10 million to save the theater before it’s too late.

My inner child must’ve fixed his hooks in pretty deeply, because I was still charmed by the Muppets.  I realize that, beyond nostalgia, it doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for adults, but kids should probably enjoy it.  I base that mostly on the crap I’ve watched that kids are into today (I’m looking at you, Dora and Yo Gabba Gabba!).  The Muppets are way better than the crap kids watch today, and I stand by that!  I actually got goosebumps when watching the opening to The Muppet Show that I had not seen in ages.  It’s silly and ridiculous, but generally it’s well aware of that fact.  What’s more important is that it’s charming, and there are actually a couple of genuine laughs in the movie.  I especially liked some of the 4th wall-breaking jokes, like when Kermit said he wasn’t going to get the band back together and Mary said, “This is going to be a really short movie.”  I also liked when the Swedish Chef said, “Say hello to my little friend,” before using a flamethrower on a mold-infested fridge, mainly because it came out as, “Herdy gerdy me Gerdy Fler!”  If you want to nitpick (and you know I do), there are a couple of things in the story that didn’t make sense to me.  First, that Walter and Gary are so starstruck with the Muppets when Walter is, himself, a Muppet.  Okay, you let that one go.  The one that bothered me (and yes, I know, more than it should’ve) was the prospect of earning the money to save the theater.  I know that every problem in Muppetland is solved with a show; that’s not the problem.  The problem is, while getting the band back together, they had to get Gonzo from the business he owns (the world’s most successful plumbing parts business) and Miss Piggy from running Vogue Paris.  They couldn’t toss a couple of bucks towards saving the theater?  They might not have wanted to supply all $10 million, but you could’ve given them at least half and let the people do the rest.  The musical numbers were a little cheesy for my taste, but I didn’t really expect much else.  The one that Amy Adams does by herself is just sad.  Not because of her voice, but because doing a musical number about trying to act happy that you’re spending time by yourself while no one else is joining in is one of the most depressing things ever.  I also found it very amusing that they had an all chicken rendition of Cee-lo Green’s “Fuck You”.  That’s an interesting choice for a Muppet movie, but I guess “Buck buck” is not that offensive, even if it’s chicken for “Fuck you.”

The performances of the people had to be hammed up because it’s a kids movie, but no one really did bad.  Amy Adams is super cute, Jason Segel comes off as a nice guy, and Jack Black just acts nuts.  The performance of the Muppets is still a well honed art.  By this time, you know these guys are experts at making felt look like it has emotions and personality, and I don’t think enough credit goes to these guys for that skill.  We just take it for granted.  I’ve also notice that computer graphics (and probably green screens) have enabled them to do more things with the Muppets than they used to be able to, allowing them to do full body Muppet movements by having the puppeteer wear a green suit.  That ability doesn’t add a whole lot to them, but it’s interesting.  One of the most interesting things about this (and a lot of other Muppet movies) is the cameos.  Though many of them only pop in for a second, or just for one line of dialogue, the cameos are really widespread and eclectic.  Zach Galifianakis was funny in his part, and was actually around a bit longer than most.  Jim Parsons (of the Big Bang Theory) plays Walter’s imaginary human form, so people that watch that show might be interested in that.  I was also super impressed with myself that I was one of the few people that would be able to recognize the singer Feist and Bill Cobbs even though most people couldn’t recognize them given an entire day and their scenes combined added up to about 10 seconds.  You can read the credits up above to have as comprehensive a list of the cameos as I could muster.

I kind of liked the Muppets movie.  It’s both not meant for me and completely meant for me.  It’s made for kids, which I am not, but it’s also made for people who loved the Muppets when they were kids, which I am.  Speaking to parents, I would say to try to get your kids into the Muppets instead of the crap that they watch now.  Muppets are so much better than that shit they’re watching now, and you can actually watch and enjoy the Muppets instead of watching with a morbid curiosity in the same way I watched Yo Gabba Gabba.  Now that it’s available from RedBox, I’d say you should give it a watch, especially if you loved the Muppets in your childhood or if you have kids and you don’t want Dora to teach them Spanish.  The Muppets gets “Kermit, you’re my hero.  You’re on my watch” out of “We all agreed: celebrities aren’t people.”

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The Smurfs (2011)


Up the Smurfin’ Creek Without a Paddle

I really wanted to see today’s movie, but only because of how bad I expected it to be.  When I saw it on RedBox, I says to myself, “I gotta see them shits.”  And I did.  We’re all already excited to hear about it, so let’s dive right in.  This movie is The Smurfs, written by J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, and David Ronn, directed by Raja Gosnell, and starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, and Sofia Vergara, and vocally starring Jonathan Winters, Anton Yelchin, Katy Perry, Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen, George Lopez, Paul Reubens, Kenan Thompson, Jeff Foxworthy, John Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, B.J. Novak, Tom Kane, and Frank Welker.

The Smurfs are preparing for a festival.  Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) has a vision that Clumsy Smurf (Anton Yelchin) smurfs everything up and getting all the Smurfs captured by their greatest enemy, the wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria).  Well, Clumsy does indeed smurf everything up, causing a small group of the Smurfs to be transported from … wherever the smurf they live to New York City.  Along with Clumsy, Papa Smurf, Smurfette (Katy Perry), Grouchy Smurf (George Lopez), Brainy Smurf (Fred Armisen), Gutsy Smurf (Alan Cumming), and even Gargamel and Gargamel’s mostly CG cat, Azrael (Frank Welker).  Shortly after arriving in New York City, the Smurfs’ lives become entangled with a husband and pregnant wife combo of Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Grace (Jayma Mays) Winslow.  Patrick has just been promoted by his boss, Odile (Sofia Vergara), and Grace is concerned that he will pay more attention to work than to their upcoming baby.  While finding their way back to their land, the Smurfs will most likely try to solve that problem as well.

This is not a film that I can recommend on any level.  It’s not the worst thing I’ve watched, but it just seems pointless and disappointing.  Pointless because I’m sure nobody was aching for the return of the Smurfs.  I vaguely remember watching them when I was young, but I don’t even have any real affection for them.  Kids may find it somewhat entertaining, but they also have no love for the Smurfs.  At the age that they would probably enjoy this movie, they’d probably enjoy watching screen savers of shapes moving on the screen as well.  And I would say the movie is disappointing because it seems to lend credence to the argument that Hollywood will not roll the dice on a new idea anymore, so we will instead get lots of warmed over smurf from the 80’s.  The story of the movie is pretty basic and unsurprising.  The Smurfs have their own little adventure going on, and the Winslow couple has their whole upcoming baby thing.  The Winslow storyline is mainly about Patrick being worried about not being a good dad and Grace is worried that he spends too much time at work.  Patrick is also worried about losing his job because of his demanding boss.  Obviously, the Smurfs help take care of all these problems and all is left right in the world when they leave.  There’s also an odd little story line between Odile and Gargamel where he uses his magic to make her mother young and Odile, as a cosmetics company owner, wants him to be able to do that for her paying customers.  They kind of forget to wrap up this story.  The Smurf’s storyline is pretty much driven by Clumsy (or as they should’ve named him, PlotDevicey).  He’s sad that his clumsiness gets the Smurfs into bad situations and he wishes he could be a hero, but there’s no y on the end of that so he’s not allowed.  As with most kids movies, the humor is generally immature and slapsticky, but also at times bordering on too mature for their intended audience, but not smart enough to be able to claim it was to entertain the parents.  Some of it is the Smurfs saying inappropriate things but exchanging “smurf” for the dirty thing they were saying (a joke they make far too often and it gets irritating quickly).  There was also a point where Gargamel pees in a vase he thinks is a chamber pot, which just comes off a crude.  The only jokes that kind of worked for me were when Neil Patrick Harris was commenting about how the Smurf society doesn’t make any sense, referencing how Smurfette’s the only girl, how their names are all their personalities, and how they use the word smurf to take the place of any random words.

The look of the movie is fine and caused no real complaints.  The time in the Smurf’s world is very colorful and “imaginative” (or at least it was whenever the Smurfs were creative, but you can’t really take the imaginative credit when you’re just using someone else’s imagination), but the time in that world is brief.  New York City is a much cleaner version of NYC than what I imagine the real NYC looks like, but the transition is not quite as stark as the characters acted like it was.  The CG Smurfs themselves look fine and the interaction with the environment is realistic.  Azrael the cat is kind of hit and miss.  I’ve vocalized my hatred for the fact that some movies think the fact that they CAN make animals look like they’re talking is reason enough to do so and call that a movie, but this movie doesn’t rely too heavily on that, especially since the cat doesn’t really talk, but it’s face is animated in a way to give it a little personality.  It works sometimes, but they also use the cat to make jokes that are perhaps inappropriate for children, like when the cat was sitting on Gargamel’s head and he remarked about it being a boy (basically saying “Azrael, your balls are on my head”) and a part where the cat was grooming its nether-regions and Gargamel remarked about the cat needing a mint (because of how his nuts tasted, I assume).  I guess it could be expected that the comedy would get a little blue in a Smurf movie.  Yeah, Robert!  Solid joke!

The voice cast performed admirably.  My problem was never with their voices, but more with the lame, unfunny, and sometimes crude things they said.  Yes, even Katy Perry did not grate on my nerves (I was as shocked as you).  I still don’t really understand the concept of putting such people into voice roles.  Especially with someone like Katy Perry.  She’s a mediocre singer that some people like for whatever reason, but the majority of her appeal is how she looks.  You get no benefits from how she looks when you’re only putting her voice in the body of the smurf dumpster of Smurfville.  (I’m not calling her a cum dumpster because she’s voiced by Katy Perry, but she must’ve become the smurf toy for the 99 male Smurfs because she’s the only female).  And that being the case, I’m sure you could get someone to do just as good of a job, or a better one, out of a professional voice actor, and it would cost a whole lot less.  People that go to see a movie because someone they like does a voice in it really need to take a look in the mirror.  Neil Patrick Harris did fine.  I found Jayma Mays to be very cute, and Sofia Vergara to be very hot.  But I didn’t like seeing Sofia Vergara playing such a bitchy role.  It made me not like her as much.  The only other place I’ve seen her is on Modern Family, where I love her.  I normally like Hank Azaria a lot, but he was REALLY hamming it up in this movie as Gargamel.  And the Smurfs had their own person that was trying too hard in George Lopez.  There were parts where it seemed like they just forgot to turn off the microphones and he was just rambling on, to no great effect.

I’m comfortable telling you all that you can skip seeing the Smurfs.  Kids MAY enjoy it, but they’ll like anything.  Take them to a Pixar movie so you don’t want to slit your wrists while watching it.  Not that this movie is bad enough to cause that, it’s just not very interesting.  There are maybe two amusing parts in the movie, and it would be a lot more tolerable if that smurfing word replacement thing wasn’t beating you over the head.  If you don’t have kids, there’s probably nothing I could say that would talk you into seeing this movie (and I certainly have no desire to try).  And if you have kids, try to steer them towards something better, but you will probably make it through if you must to shut them up.  The Smurfs gets “I hated it … so much less than I expected” out of “Don’t get me wrong, I still hate it.”

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