"The Muppets" get some human friends in their new movie.
There's a saying in sports journalism: No cheering in the press box, meaning that journalists are supposed to be objective and can't root for one team over the other.
That saying normally applies to movie reviewers as well, but when the new movie "The Muppets" is involved, forget it. It's hard to find a reviewer who didn't grow up thinking fondly of Jim Henson's felt friends, whether it's the "Sesame Street" contingent, the actual "Muppet Show" episodes, or earlier Muppet movies.
But even if you were just dropped here from an alien spacecraft -- perhaps piloted by Pigs in Space -- it would be tough not to root for a Muppets comeback. The characters are just as charming, funny and self-aware as they've always been. And they manage to stay family-friendly without boring the adults -- the preschoolers in the audience don't need to know the real name of the Cee Lo song that Camilla and the chickens sing as "Cluck You."
The plot is pretty simple. Humans Gary and Mary (Jason Segel and Amy Adams) take Gary's brother Walter (a Muppet, though how Muppets and humans can be related is never explained) to Hollywood to see his heroes, The Muppets. They find The Muppet Theater is a wreck and the old gang has split up. When they learn a greedy oil baron (Chris Cooper) is going to tear down the theater and drill for oil, they find Kermit and get the band back together to put on a show and raise the money to save it. (There's even a cameo by the original let's-put-on-a-show guy, 90-year-old Mickey Rooney himself.)
The movie is the first Muppets film in 12 years, and the film won't let you forget it. Kermit tries to call President Carter. He offers Gary and Mary New Coke and Tab. He has a robot who's programmed to say "gag me with a spoon!" and "grody to the max." Teen queen Selena Gomez shows up and confusedly admits "I don't really know who you guys are."
But by movie's end, even kids who were born in the 2000s will leave the theater newly baptized Muppet fans. Miss Piggy and Kermie's love-hate relationship still works, Fozzie has added fart shoes to his bad-joke repertoire, Gonzo still likes to blow things up, and no one can ever understand the Swedish Chef, even with subtitles. Dozens of big stars cameo, with Jack Black and Neil Patrick Harris among the best, and Rashida Jones shines as the Hollywood exec who has to be convinced that the Muppets can find fans in 2011.
They can. They should. They deserve to. Sometimes it's OK to cheer in the press box.
Who's your favorite Muppet? Are you cheering on their comeback? Tell us in the comments.