I am one of the Muppet generation. The Muppet Show launched when I was about seven years old, ended when I was thirteen, and stayed in heavy re-run rotation all the way up until I went to college. It was absolutely formative.
So I was predisposed to like the new Muppet movie, even if it was a bomb. I was going like it come hell or high water, because it was the Muppets! I had popcorn! I knew the theme song by heart! I was ready! I was also realistically pessimistic about the chances that the new movie would capture a shred of the magic of Muppets yore.
Then Kermit and crew showed up and simply swept me off my feet.
Everything about the Muppets is kind of cheesy and retrograde, but the charm is the nostalgia that inspires. More importantly, the Muppets always bring to the plate a genuine, optimistic innocence.
In our jaded culture we usually equate innocence with naivety and gullibility and other character traits that are easy to put down or make fun of. But the heart of innocence is the idea of a purity of spirit, and that more than anything describes the Muppets. They represent unbridled optimism in the face of malfunctioning props, lame jokes, irrational divas and cartoonish bad guys.
Every day our lives are a farce not too different from the surreal dance sequences in the Muppet’s movies, we just take it too seriously to see that. Watching the Muppets brings the unreality full circle, making it possible to laugh at the ridiculousness of life while seeing through that ridiculousness to remember what is really important.
And that’s why I probably cried about three times during the movie. I was not crying out of sadness or even sentimentality, but because the movie is about love and friendship and hope and the pure, childlike glee of being alive.
The Muppets gives us our innocence back. There is no greater gift.
* If you haven’t seen the movie, the subject line might not make sense; a running gag throughout is that children are the first greatest gift, ice cream is the second greatest gift, and laughter is the third.