Review: The Muppets

I saw the new Muppet movie for the second time last weekend. I’ll probably see it at least one more time before the new year. I loved it.

I wouldn’t call it a perfect movie. It has several problems that I’ll get into soon, but overall, I just had a ridiculous amount of fun watching it. It was a big mix of sweet adorable, hilarious, heartwarming, and inspirational. It was beautiful.

It has some great messages about inclusion, about working together, about trying your hardest and sometimes not succeeding at what you set out to do but still feeling proud of yourself. It’s a great kids’ movie. The muppets are genuinely nice people. They take care of each other, they like each other, they work together, they bring out the best in each other. They have some problems, and they generally recognize those problems, but they don’t dwell on them. They know that sometimes they need to put personal differences aside to get the job done. Fox News apparently had problems with the movie because it hates on big oil companies, and while I’d agree that it doesn’t present the most nuanced analysis of the benefits and drawbacks to drilling for oil, I do think it hits on something pretty important about the place of the arts in a society that sometimes favours industrialism over creativity. And the movie didn’t feel preachy. At no point did I feel like I was being taught a Very Valuable Lesson, even the few times when a lesson was explicitly stated. I just felt like I was having fun, watching an awesome movie. And I would love for it to have been even better.

The movie had the typical Hollywood problems with diversity. Muppets come in all shapes, sizes, colours, and species, and their differences make them a better group. But the human cast was (almost?) uniformly white. The message of inclusion gets a little lost when you have to pretend that humans only come in one colour.

The movie also had problems with its depiction of women (which I have way more to say about, probably because I think about it more; I need to work on that). I appreciate the effort of making Walter and Gary really good sewers while Mary teaches kids to fix a transmission and restores electricity to the theatre, but I don’t feel that quite makes up for the fact that the movie has about three women with speaking roles. And it doesn’t make up for the fact that, of those three women, two have very little to do other than be a love interest and provide an opportunity for growth on the part of the guys who love them. It’s a movie about growing up, about finding your place in the world, about trying your best and reaching for your dreams, but the only characters who really do that are men. They even created a new Muppet, Walter, to connect with the newer audience, and of course he’s also a guy.

I can’t blame all of these problems on this movie. They’re typical Hollywood movie problems, and almost every movie has them. And based on the women in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I’d guess that Jason Segel has at least some interest in making female characters actual people, not just vehicles for male character development. Like I said, I do appreciate the small attempts at subverting traditional gender assumptions. But most mainstream movie makers clearly don’t have the knowledge necessary to combat the systemic discrimination that erases stories of anyone who isn’t a straight white dude. Bitch Flicks suggests that Pixar should hire a consultant. I think the rest of Hollywood should do the same, because writers and directors and producers don’t need to be experts in anti-oppression or anti-discrimination work, but they do have a responsibility to not perpetuate harmful ideas.

And I think that’s especially true of people who make movies like The Muppets, which is, aside from this huge problem, a really awesome movie. Like I said, I loved it, and a big part of me wants to give it five stars out of five (or four out of four, or ten out of ten, or whatever). I just can’t ignore the huge Hollywood movie problems it has that keep it from being truly amazing.

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