‘The Muppets’ brings back memories

I’m both excited and anxious about the new Muppet movie premiering this week, caught between my desire to relive a great childhood memory and my fears the new movie won’t be able to capture the magic the way I remembered it.

I can remember as a kid listening to a record with the soundtrack to the first Muppet movie on it and singing along to songs like “The Rainbow Connection” (and likely later annoying my family by singing “Moving Right Along” on every road trip we took; in fact, I listened to it so many times I can probably still sing it word-for-word). I loved watching “Muppet Treasure Island” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” and even though my friends and I are now in our 20s, we still quote lines from those films.

However, it’s been a while since we’ve heard from the Muppets, and kids now are probably more familiar with the characters from “Shrek” and other CGI animated films than Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppet gang. The last major Muppet motion picture, “Muppets from Space,” wasn’t a big commercial success, and the Muppets seem to have retreated back into the shadows of pop culture. Now, actor Jason Segel is making a gamble he can bring the Muppets back, and I sincerely hope he can.

Although the Muppets are decidedly low-tech compared to today’s animatronics  and CGI characters, to me, they’ve never really felt outdated. As I watch the movies, I lose track of the fact the Muppets are just puppets made from felt — they truly become characters with their own unique personalities (and, in Miss Piggy’s case, plenty of attitude). The Muppet films were always witty without ever being too snarky, and there was enough material to entertain kids and adults.

The Muppet movies also have something kids movies today don’t always seem to have, and that’s heart. In a recent feature about the upcoming Muppet movie, Entertainment Weekly magazine noted the Muppets have always been “underdog” type characters, and I think that’s something that can appeal to all of us. Despite the fact that yes, he is a talking green frog, I’ve always thought of Kermit as an “everyman.” His song “The Rainbow Connection” (which is about finding a way to achieve your dream, no matter who you are or what obstacles you’re up against) always makes me tear up.

Segel, more known for his raunchy comedies, may seem like an odd choice to make and star in the latest Muppet film, but he’s said the Muppets were an important part of his childhood, and this film is his love letter to them. Here’s hoping it’s a good one.

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