Candidates for the most successful comeback in 2012? It has to be The Muppets. The new film featuring Kermit, Miss Piggy and company has shattered all expectations to become the most financially successful Muppet film to date, putting memories of flop Muppets from Space to rest. The incredibly witty screenplay, written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, performs the difficult balancing act of appealing to both older and younger audiences, culminating in a classic song and dance finale as our fuzzy friends band together to save the Muppet Theatre from an evil oil baron. Along the way, the film introduces a new character, Walter, to the fold, and the movie also benefits from a game human cast, including Segel himself, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper.
One aspect of the movie that was feverishly anticipated by fans was the soundtrack release – after all, what's a Muppet movie without a spirited musical accompaniment? The result is as delightful as one would expect: wonderfully silly, subversive and often hysterically funny. Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie served as music supervisor, and his surreal, elliptical lyrics and sense of twisted wit are very much apparent in all of the songs. The Muppets is also significant in that it's the first of the movies to win an Academy Award, and fittingly enough, the win came for Best Song. Man or Muppet scooped the prize and it's a brilliant distillation of the themes at the heart of the movie, as Jason Segel's character embraces his sense of manliness, and his brother Walter embraces his destiny as a new member of the Muppet clan.
It's a fantastically witty number that builds humour from repetitive lyrics but truth be told all of the songs were worthy of the Oscar. Following the opening rendition of the classic Muppet Show theme, the album proceeds in delightfully sunny fashion with Life's a Happy Song, set to become a classic children's ballad for the ages as Segel, Adams and others revel in the exuberant, upbeat lyrics ("Everything is perfect/It's falling into place/I can't seem to wipe this smile from my face"). Complete with bouncy piano undercurrent, it's sure to plant a grin on the face of even the most cynical listener.
The album is intelligently structured, with audio clips from the film bridging the songs and giving a sense of structure. It also conveys the narrative of the film brilliantly, from Kermit's sadness that The Muppets have gone their separate ways ("Pictures in my Head" – complete with contributions from Swedish Chef and others) to Amy Adams and Miss Piggy's lively statement of defiance in "Me Party". Good as all these efforts are, the show is very nearly stolen by stoic actor Chris Cooper rapping like a pro in the hysterically funny, "Let's Talk About Me", as the main villain explains why he wants to destroy the Muppets in the first place.
Being a Muppets soundtrack, there are inevitably some razor sharp skewerings of popular songs, in this case Nirvana's classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (covered by the Muppet Barbershop Quartet) and, brilliantly, Cee-Loo Green's "Forget You" (by Camilla and the Chickens in full on clucking mode). Things conclude with a terrific rendition of "Life's a Happy Song" and the evergreen number "Ma Na Mah Na" (do, do, do doo doo). There are also token concessions to pop with Starship's "We Built This City" and "Dance With Me Tonight" by Olly Murs.
Few soundtracks in 2012 are likely to be as entertaining as that for The Muppets. Satirical, smart and infectiously warm-hearted, it's as if they've never been away, and full credit goes to McKenzie and the spirited cast members. Just like the film itself, the soundtrack expertly walks the tightrope between witty self-awareness and genuine heart, pulling off a difficult balancing act. The Muppets are back and available on Amazon at these locations: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, and another version with a different cover at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
As mentioned previously, the album includes excerpts of dialogue giving the narrative of the film, but this is a full track listing of the album's songs tracks: