"Can something be considered fan fiction if it's also an official, canonical studio product?" asks Alison Willmore at Movieline. "I'm going to argue yes, absolutely, because with The Muppets, Jason Segel has crafted what can only be described as the most extravagant work of fan fiction ever, Mary Sue-ing himself into the Muppet universe as a character who helps reunite the gang in order to save their old theater and the day. Segel, who co-wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller, even leaves his own tentative mark on Jim Henson's beloved ensemble by inserting a personal addition in the form of alter ego Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), his character's Muppet brother and the group's most devoted fan even when the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about them." 7.5 out of 10.
Bill Weber in Slant: "Made with palpable affection and childhood nostalgia by its comedy young-blood participants (director James Bobin and songwriter Bret McKenzie from HBO's The Flight of the Conchords, and, more worryingly, co-writer and human protagonist Jason Segel of the Judd Apatow slobcom factory), The Muppets reverts to the let's-put-on-a-show genre of The Muppet Show TV series and the initial 1979 movie, both of which are frequently invoked and quoted here. Disney, the new proprietors of Jim Henson's creations, and the filmmakers know the Muppets' oeuvre is catnip to tens of millions of adults between 30 and 50, who, with or without kids in tow, will be melting into tears at 'The Rainbow Connection' or Kermit the Frog's climactic 'we are family' speech to his fellows (as I might have, though you can't prove it)."
"The plot is typical Muppets simplicity," writes Scott Weinberg at Twitch: "young Walter and his brother Gary (Jason Segel), along with Gary's adorable girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) decide to take a trip to Los Angeles and visit the legendary Muppets Studio — but quickly become embroiled in a battle between the now-outdated Muppet menagerie and the oily advances of a tycoon known as Tex Richman [Chris Cooper]…. The Muppets is, quite simply, everything a lifelong Muppet maniac would want in a new movie. It's sly and sweet, kooky and clever, warm and witty, silly for kids and subversive for grown-ups."
Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "The original foam, fleece, and fur performers were assured showbiz veterans who never worried about being hip; their irreverent sensibility made them timeless. Unable to resist one of the more appalling trends in kids' movies over the past decade, the reboot, in contrast, features Camilla and a bunch of backup chickens clucking to Cee Lo's 'Forget You.'… There was a charming meta-ness to the '79 movie, which was structured as both a film-within-a-film and an origin story, and included a few sly winks to the audience. Straining for that same vibe, this Muppets overreaches."
"This isn't nostalgia," argues James Rocchi at the Playlist, "and it isn't irony — The Muppets may be one of the best films of the year, not judged as a children's film, or a family film, but instead, simply as a film."
More from Pete Hammond (Box Office, 4.5/5), Stephen Holden (New York Times, "it has been done just about right, which means conceptually and technologically left alone"), Linda Holmes (NPR, "probably as good a Muppet project as it's possible to make without Jim Henson"), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 3.5/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon, "you can't go wrong with this one"), Jeffrey Overstreet (Filmwell), Keith Phipps (AV Club, B-), Mary Pols (Time), Ray Pride (Newcity Film, "The Muppets wants to be the greatest Muppet movie of all time, but it's more of a love letter from a stalker who may love just a little too much"), Dana Stevens (Slate, "it's the complete opposite of a focus-grouped, studio-driven 'reboot'"), Benjamin Sutton (L) and Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York, 3/5).
Brooks Barnes talks with the film's makers for the NYT, Jason Bellamy goes "Searching for the Muppets" at Press Play and the Fug Girls analyze Miss Piggy's style evolution at Vulture. Interviews: James Rocchi with Bobin for MSN Movies, Rick Marshall with Segel for IFC, and Kyle Buchanan chats up Amy Adams for Vulture.
Updates: Viewing. In their video essay Never Before, Never Again: Henson and Oz, created for the Museum of the Moving Image exhibition Jim Henson's Fantastic World, Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi argue that Henson and Frank Oz "should be considered a comedy team on the level of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy." Press Play's running the essay as well as a conversation between Matt and Cancelosi "about the challenge of sustaining the Muppets after Jim Henson's untimely death."
"It's a kids' movie for a generation of kids who don't really know much about Jim Henson's beloved creations," writes Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. "The Muppet Show ended in 1981, though the Muppets themselves lived on through movies and TV specials. Meanwhile, its most receptive demographic consists of adults who probably want something a bit more knowing than, say, The Great Muppet Caper. And yet to get too snarky or pop-culturey would betray the sweet, ambling Muppet ethos. It's an awkward dilemma, but director James Bobin's solution appears to be to indulge the awkwardness."
Adams "was made to co-star in Muppet movies (not that that's her sole talent, but you get what I'm saying)," writes Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies. The Muppets features "multiple cameos," but Glenn won't "spoil a potential smile you'll get by saying, 'Hey, what's [that dude] doing here?' Which will happen more than once. A new Pixar short, Small Fry, a Toy Story tale in which Buzz Lightyear inadvertently finds himself sitting in on a Discarded Toys support group, precedes the feature proper. Shades of the classic Looney Tune Birds Anonymous, and typically inventive and funny."
"Some of us, for the record, have always played the music. And some of us, also just to clarify, never stopped lighting the lights. That's because, for us in the cultural elite, we are always ready to meet the Muppets on The Muppet Show tonight." Hadley Freeman in the Guardian on why no brow is too high for the Muppets.
Back in the early, early 80s, Charles Grodin had a one-night fling with Miss Piggy. Today, at Vulture, he divulges the details.
Updates, 11/25: Paul Constant in the Stranger: "The Muppets isn't perfect — Fozzie and several other Muppets at times sound like they have sore throats due to the new voice talent, and because of the up-with-Muppets tone of the film, there's not really any way for grousier elements like Statler and Waldorf or Sam the Eagle to get their moments in the spotlight — but it's pretty damn close to perfect."
"And then there's 'The Rainbow Connection,' a song that remains haunting in ways I still can't quite put into words," writes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "At its best, The Muppets honors that magical mix of chaotic comedy and resounding melancholy."
More from AA Dowd (Time Out Chicago, 3/5) and Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 4/5).