The Muppets Trailer Is Out! Can Jason Segel Do the Franchise Justice?

Slate's Culture Blog
May 23 2011 4:50 PM

The Muppets Trailer Is Out! Can Jason Segel Do the Franchise Justice?

My inner child was both excited and scared when the first trailer for The Muppets —which opens in November—hit the web this afternoon. Watch:

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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So far, Jason Segel, the How I Met Your Mother and Forgetting Sarah Marshall star who co-wrote the script and also acts in the film, isn’t on my bad side. The trailer, which is actually more about the romantic film-within-the-film of The Muppets shows the winking humor, big song-and-dance numbers, and chaos that were the highlights of the classic trilogy: The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1982), and my favorite, The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984).

It has been more than a decade since Muppets From Space , the last (and cruelly underrated ) theatrical release to drop in on Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fonzie, Gonzo, and the rest of the menagerie. For a time, the franchise seemed stuck in a rut of remaking classic tales. The Muppet-flavor reinterpretations of A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island were enjoyable, but they were missing the chemistry of the old-school Muppet romps, when the entire gang shared a grand adventure, "playing" themselves. In the later films, each Muppet was merely an actor, and the puppet group cohesion was sorely missing.

Jason Segel aims to resurrect that old magic. He told MovieWeb in 2008, "[We are trying to bring it back to the early '80s movies where it's not Muppets in the Sahara or Muppets Underwater. It's the Muppets getting back together to put on a show, to save the studio." (Hence the film within a film, it seems.) The spirit is admirable, but the question remains: Can someone who grew up a hard-core franchise fan make his own installment and do it justice? Segel admits that he cried the first time he met the Muppets . Is someone that devoted able to distance himself enough to create his own Muppet story, instead of just paying homage?

Take The Simpsons . "We've got a bunch of new writers now who tell me they grew up watching The Simpsons. It's bizarre," Matt Groening once said. Some Simpsons purists who think that the show has been on a downward trend for more than a decade cite that phenomenon as part of the problem.

The transition from fan to creator is not an easy one. If devotion were all that was required, there wouldn’t be so much terrible fan fiction out there. But so far, Segel seems to be walking that fine line between respecting what made the best Muppets films so magical and putting his own stamp on the material

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