At the movies Double Feature: *The Muppets* and *Hugo*

To be honest, sometimes I prefer seeing “family” films without the younger members of the family. Tall Paul’s kids were with their mom this weekend (although they spent Thanksgiving Day with us), and he and I went to the movies on Saturday and Sunday. Partly for that reason, I didn’t end up spending as much time reading as I expected to during my four days off, but one of the movies was based on a book…

The Muppets (PG)
Comedy/musical (rated PG)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Kermit T. Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, The Great Gonzo, and introducing…Walter
Director: James Bobin
Screenwriters: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

Summary, via RottenTomatoes.com: On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world’s biggest Muppet fan, and his friends Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets’ former stomping grounds. To stage The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever and raise the $10 million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate.

As a nearly-lifelong Muppets fan–I watched the original Muppet Show when it was first-run TV, y’all!–I’ve missed them during the last several years, but I was highly skeptical about the news that they’d be making a “comeback” in a new film. I feared exploitation and misuse by a studio who didn’t really get what made them so great (Disney’s owned the Muppets for years, and at times it’s seemed like an odd match), and I expected I’d be avoiding The Muppets when it came to theaters.

The fact that I found myself eager to see it within a few days of opening is a tribute to the power of good reviews, both from traditional media and word of mouth. Much of the credit goes to screenwriter and star Jason Segel, for whom this was a passion project–and it shows. The Muppets are in the trustworthy hands of someone who really does get what makes them so great, and makes appropriate references to their history and the show-within-a-show structure of The Muppet Show. The characters are properly in character, and the humor is their trademark combination of clever and cornball. This is a “fun for the whole family” movie, but it might be more fun for the older members, who’ll appreciate more of the references. Kids of all ages will appreciate Fozzie’s fart shoes, though.
Hugo (PG)
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz
Director: Martin Scorcese
Screenwriter: John Logan, from a novel by Brian Selznick

Summary, via RottenTomatoes.com: Throughout his extraordinary career, Academy Award-wining director Martin Scorsese has brought his unique vision and dazzling gifts to life in a series of unforgettable films. This holiday season the legendary storyteller invites you to join him on a thrilling journey to a magical world with his first-ever 3-D film, based on Brian Selznick’s award-winning, imaginative New York Times best-seller, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” Hugo is the astonishing adventure of a wily and resourceful boy whose quest to unlock a secret left to him by his father will transform Hugo and all those around him, and reveal a safe and loving place he can call home.

I’d been intrigued by a couple of the recent trailers I’d seen for Hugo, but this is another film where the decision to see it was made very close to release date, and was highly influenced by positive reviews. This is a movie based on a children’s book and marketed toward a young audience, but there are elements that could be a bit intense and confusing for little kids. 
For the slightly older moviegoer, however, Hugo is a wonderful experience. It’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time, and the 3D effects are so well-integrated that they don’t seem at all gimmicky. On the other hand, I’m not sure they’re entirely necessary. The story of an orphaned boy who lives high in the rafters of the Paris train station and has a gift for fixing things is engaging and moving, and its “magic” isn’t so much the stuff of fantasy as it is, truly, the magic of the movies. The film is a real work of art, and one I’d be glad to watch again–and now I want to know its source material, because I’m not a “read the book first” stickler. I’ve added Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret to my Christmas wish list.

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