Reel Reviews

‘The Muppets’

Audience:
A-I – general patronage

 

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Heart-felt fun for the whole family!

Jim Henson’s singing, dancing, wise-cracking band of puppets returns to the big screen in “The Muppets” (Disney), an old-fashioned and genuinely funny homage to a simpler age of wholesome family films.

Refreshingly restrained when it comes to the toilet humor and rude behavior so often spoon-fed to young filmgoers these days, “The Muppets” will appeal to nostalgic baby boomers, even as it introduces a new generation to the decidedly low-tech felt figures for whom charm is a strong suit.

Gary (Jason Segel) and his brother Walter (voice of Peter Linz) live in Smalltown, U.S.A. They’re good pals, despite the fact that Walter is decidedly different – in fact, he's a Muppet. Together they watch TV reruns of “The Muppet Show,” which, as many viewers will remember, originally aired in first-run syndication from 1976 to 1981.

When Gary decides to take his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary, he invites Walter to come along and see the Muppet Studios where their favorite series was produced. To their horror, they find that the Muppets have disbanded and the theater is in shambles. Walter stumbles upon the designs of wicked oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to tear down the studios and drill for oil – unless $10 million can be raised in just two days.

Walter persuades Gary and Mary to mount a rescue. “As long as there are singing frogs and dancing bears the world is a good and kind place,” Walter says. “There is hope.”

They locate Kermit the Frog (voice of Steve Whitmire), down and out in his Beverly Hills mansion, surrounded by memories of long-ago fame. Walter raises the frog from his funk, telling him, “You give people the greatest gift of all.”
 
"Children?" Kermit replies.

No.

“Ice cream?”

No.

“Laughter,” Walter reveals, “is the third greatest gift of all.”
 
Kermit agrees to stage a telethon, and sets out in his Rolls-Royce with his new friends to round up the old gang. Fozzie Bear (voice of Eric Jacobson) is discovered in Reno performing with a tribute band called “The Moopets.” Animal (also voiced by Jacobson), the manic rock-and-roll drummer, is taking anger management classes with Jack Black, who reluctantly becomes the celebrity host of the telethon.

In Paris (the Rolls drives there, underwater), Miss Piggy (also voiced by Jacobson) is the plus-size editor for Vogue magazine. She still pines for Kermit, whom she hoped to marry. “We could have had a home and raised tadpoles and grown old together,” she tells him.

But felt proves thicker than water, and the Muppets reunite, clean up the old theater, and start rehearsals for the telethon. As they assume their old identities, the brothers rediscover their own. “Am I a man or a Muppet?” Gary asks. “Am I a Muppet or a man?” Walter asks. The answers come with good lessons about family, friendship, believing in yourself and following your dreams.

Directed by newcomer James Bobin, “The Muppets” contains several catchy songs and some exuberant dance numbers. Among the many celebrity cameos is Mickey Rooney, that old hoofer who knew a thing or two about putting on a fun show for the entire family.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

(By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service)

‘Arthur Christmas’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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Santa Delivers on His Promise

Cartoonist Thomas Nast, who popularized Santa Claus in the 1880s, could not have envisioned the high-tech world of “Arthur Christmas” (Columbia), a mostly delightful 3-D animated comedy which equips Kris Kringle with a stealth ship, GPS navigation, battalions of ninjalike elves, and scanners that measure children for “naughty” or “nice.”

Directed and co-written (with Peter Baynham) by first-time helmer Sarah Smith, and co-produced by Aardman Animations – the company behind the beloved “Wallace & Gromit” series – “Arthur Christmas” has a first-rate and very funny script and showcases some of the best voice work in a long time.

Although it has absolutely nothing to do with the true meaning of the Nativity, the film does offer a good commentary on the commercialization of the holiday and reminds viewers of the importance of family, loyalty, and being faithful to one’s promise.

It’s Christmas Eve, and North Pole Mission Control, hidden deep below the Arctic Circle, is buzzing. Santa Claus (voice of Jim Broadbent) is getting ready for his 70th mission. He’s the 20th man to wear the red suit since the first – St. Nicholas (of course).

But our Santa’s getting long in the tooth, and his ambitious, narcissistic son Steve (voice of Hugh Laurie) is anxious to inherit “the greatest job in the world.” Steve runs the sophisticated global network of gift distribution, relying on technology to eliminate any possibility of human (or elfin) error.

Decidedly more low-tech is Steve’s younger brother, the humble Arthur (voice of James McAvoy). His job is to answer, by hand, all the letters Santa receives from children. “Santa is real,” he writes with wide-eyed wonder. “He’s the greatest man ever.”

Disaster strikes in the form of a single undelivered present. Steve convinces Santa that this glitch is well within the margin of error, and both turn in for the night. But Arthur is aghast, as a little girl from England who wrote to Santa asking for a pink bicycle will be left disappointed. Something must be done! To the rescue comes Santa’s dad, Grandsanta (voice of Bill Nighy). Now 136 years old, he misses the excitement of having the top job. He’s upset, too, at how Santa has taken a back seat to all the gadgets and gizmos.

Grandsanta uncovers the old sleigh, rounds up the rather aged reindeer, procures a supply of magic dust (to enable flight), and persuades Arthur to join him on one last mission.

Grandsanta, whose false teeth keep popping out, provides the film’s most questionable humor as well as some of its funniest lines. He cannot, for instance, remember the reindeers’ names. “Prancer, Dancer,” he begins. “Vixen ... Bambi? Joe?”

Accompanied by Bryony (voice of Ashley Jensen) – a stowaway elf from the Giftwrap Battalion – Arthur and Grandsanta rocket off to deliver the overlooked package before sunrise.

“Arthur Christmas” features at least few benign references to the real holiday. Crash-landing in Africa, for example, the trio of travelers is surrounded by ferocious lions. Arthur sings “Silent Night” to persuade the beasts to “sleep in heavenly peace.”

The film contains some rude humor and cartoonish thrills. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)