The Muppets

The Muppets is as much fun as I’ve had in a theater in a long time. I haven’t laughed this much since I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou, and I haven’t been as pleased with a cinematic experience since I saw The Bourne Identity. The Muppets is fun and goofy and heartwarming and zany and everything a Muppets movie should be. In fact, The Muppets is everything it wants to be, and it wants to be a re-creation of the pure joy for which Jim Henson’s puppets have always stood. I can’t recommend it enough.

The Muppets is about a very puppet-looking boy named Walter, his brother (Jason Segal), and his brothers girlfriend (Amy Adams). Walter adores the Muppets and dreams of visiting the Muppets’ studios in Hollywood. When he finally gets to visit, he finds the studios in disrepair and about to be sold to an oil tycoon who plans to raze the ground and drill. Walter, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend find Kermit and with his help get the Muppets back together to try to save the studio by hosting a telethon. Hilarity ensues.

I delayed seeing The Muppets for weeks longer than I wanted so that I could see it with my family when I was home for a few weeks for Christmas. I could hardly wait to see it though, and it was one of the most difficult waiting for a movie experiences of my life. I was especially excited for a Muppets movie that looked to be so ungimmicky. I really love A Muppet Christmas Carol, but Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space leave a lot to be desired. The Muppets looked to be a return to form for Kermit and the gang.

I was so looking forward to seeing this movie in fact, I dreamt about it. Now, the movie I dreamt wasn’t the movie I saw when I went to the theater, but it was a very interesting Muppet movie. In my dream, the first forty-five minutes of the film focused solely on Kermit, Ms. Piggy, and the rest. Walter, Jason Segal, and Amy Adams don’t come into the story until the second half. My dream Muppets movie began with Kermit and the other Muppets together but not getting along very well. Frustrated, Kermit decides to leave. Instead of the story following our froggy friend, the focus stayed on the other left behind Muppets who struggle to stay together in Kermit’s absence. Finally, one night when all seems lost, Kermit mysteriously returns and steals into the studio. He quietly rouses Ms. Piggy, and the two of them go to a drive-in movie. The drive-in movie begins and Kermit, silhouetted by the screen, begins to quietly sing “The Rainbow Connection” to Ms. Piggy. All is forgiven. The story continues. In my dream, I wept. The emotional impact of the dream movie stayed with me well after I awoke the next morning.

As I reflected on the dream, I realized that the story in my dream would be impossible with any group of characters other than Jim Henson’s Muppets. The impact of Kermit’s absence felt by the other Muppets would not be the same as the impact felt if say, Bugs Bunny were to abandon the other Loony Toons characters. Similarly, Mickey Mouse could go off on his own, and Donald, Goofy, and the rest would be ok. Loony Toons and Disney characters exist independent of each other. The Muppets belong together. They are “the Muppets” – collective, a group, and their being together in all their weirdness and wackiness is the point. They exist to bring happiness to the world together.

The Muppets is a great film because it is true to that truth about the Muppets. The film is about their need to come back together to do what they can only do together – bring happiness to the world.

The church planter/missionary in me cheers at that impulse. In my view, the Church is just like the Muppets. We are a weird, rag-tag group of people brought together for a common goal – to bring the happiness we’ve found in Christ to the world. That’s why we exist, and when we forget that, when we begin to think our role is to enforce rules or ethics on society or to build powerful institutions capable of dominating the world, we miss the point and lose our identity. We stop being the Church. We are just weird. Worse, we are no different than anyone else in the world.

I’ve long been grateful for Jim Henson, for his Muppets and for his graceful search for his “rainbow connection.” In doing so, he approached the joy and happiness we’re all called to. With his weird little camaraderie of puppets, he gave us a clearer picture of what it means to be human than we find in most other places. The Muppets is a shining testament to Henson’s legacy. It’s the kind of film that makes me think, if I had to choose between being a man or a Muppet, I might just choose the later.