As the flesh-and-blood star and co-screenwriter of “The Muppets,” opening in theaters today, he’s so reverent of the characters that he knows his stuff … and yet is too close to it to recognize when fandom crosses the line of accessibility.
Kids may enjoy the film, but it’s really geared for their parents, who grew up watching “The Muppet Show” on TV and wearing out VHS tapes of 1979’s “The Muppet Movie” and its two ’80s sequels. Kermit the Frog and friends have been out of the mass-audience spotlight for so long, a generation raised on “SpongeBob SquarePants” has little-to-no knowledge of Swedish Chef or Statler.
Coincidentally, that’s Segel’s premise, as he and longtime virginal girlfriend (Amy Adams, “The Fighter”), take his little brother, Walter (a new Muppet) to L.A., only to find their beloved Muppets have splintered irreparably and taken separate life paths. But what if Walter could get the gang back together?
The human cast is game, with the exception of an uncomfortable Chris Cooper (“The Town”) as a villainous oil baron, so why isn’t it funnier? Too many characters of the felt variety crowd the way, making the script feel more slapdash than slapstick. Too many musical numbers exist at the sacrifice of whatever narrative glue could hold this together better.
Segel got to make his dream “Muppets” movie — just not necessarily ours.