Like the late-’70s/early-’80s TV program The Muppet Show, the first Muppet movie in 12 years follows a long tradition of perfectly old-fashioned theatrical entertainments about putting on a musical. Thanks to the superhuman creativity of the late Muppet papa Jim Henson, there’s also an additional level of postmodern self-reflexivity to these puppets, one that grapples with their very position between humanity and felt/feathers/fur. Directed by Flight of the Conchords creator James Bobin with songs written and produced by the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie, The Muppets miraculously manages to ramp up the meta-ness on a level befitting that New Zealand duo’s superior spoof skills while remaining true to Kermit and crew’s childlike innocence.
Its soundtrack is recognizably Conchords-esque but recorded on a Disney budget with interconnecting threads of satire and sincerity: Opening number “Life’s a Happy Song” sounds like Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks at their most lavishly perky; “Me Party” offers wryly euphoric diva disco; “Man or Muppet” explodes like a classic Jim Steinman power ballad, yet with wit commensurate to its bombast. Barbershop and chicken clucking versions of Nirvana and Cee-Lo hits complement Paul Simon and (egad!) Starship originals along with dialogue bits that help play out the film in your Muppet mind’s googly eye. It all adds up to a soundtrack album for people who ordinarily shun soundtrack albums: This is pop about pop.