- - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Leave it to a scruffy orange puppet named Fozzie Bear to make fart shoes funny.

In the hands — well, feet — of an ordinary comedian, shoes strapped to whoopee cushions would be the height of comedic desperation. But Fozzie is no ordinary comedian. He’s a Muppet, one of the beloved gang of world-famous puppets created by Jim Henson, and a co-star of “The Muppets.”

The enduring genius of the Muppets is that, at their best, they take childlike humor and make it charming, lovable and funny. That’s why they’re still making Muppet movies after all these years, and why kids and adults still show up to see them.

Face it: We all love the Muppets. And after their latest cinematic outing, lots of people are going to love them even more.


Henson’s Muppets are probably most famous for their appearances on “Sesame Street,” but true fans know they did their best work from 1976-1981 on “The Muppet Show,” a prime-time variety series featuring sketch comedy and musical numbers by a wide array of Henson’s puppet creations.

Fronted by Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Fozzie, as well as a host of memorable supporting characters, the series trafficked in self-referential absurdity, subtle pop-culture satire, and more than a little humor that can only be described as flat-out weird. It offered a child-appropriate, adult-friendly mash-up of the same era-defining, Dada-light humor that drove “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and the chaotic early seasons of “Saturday Night Live.”

The show was a cult classic that spawned a multitude of sequels of varying quality and remains beloved today. Indeed, “The Muppets” relies heavily on the considerable good will the characters have built up over the years. Fortunately, it doesn’t squander its store of good feelings on cheap sentimentality or cynical exploitation.

Quite the opposite, in fact. “The Muppets” reunites the whole gang from “The Muppet Show” for a film about the virtues of silliness and self-reference, and the triumph of the good, the weird, and the lovable.

Part road-movie, part save-the-farm comedy, the story follows the Muppets as they reunite for a “Muppet Show” final hurrah in order to save their old theater from an evil corporate goon named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper in full-on Snidely Whiplash mode). The middle portion of the film features a hilarious, “Blues Brothers”-style road trip in which Kermit gets the band back together, followed by a long sequence in which the puppets put on One Last Show.

The movie’s meta-streak is a mile long. The movie kicks off, for example, when Gary (Jason Segel, who also cowrote the script) decides to take his brother Walter, a puppet who’s also the world’s biggest “Muppet Show” fan, to Los Angeles to see the old Muppet theater.

“The Muppets” features a slew of comedy-star cameos: Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Zach Galifinakis and Sarah Silverman all show up in tiny roles, as do Amy Adams and Rashida Jones, as Gary’s longtime girlfriend and the executive overseeing the Muppets’ final show, respectively.

But it’s the handheld cloth puppets who are the real stars, and the most affecting characters. At this point, it’s easier to think of them as people than puppets, complete with entire personalities, which is what makes them so funny and affecting. You’ll cry. You’ll laugh. Even at the fart shoes.

★★★½

TITLE: “The Muppets”

RATING: PG for fart humor, absurdism

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