Two (ostensibly) children’s films go head to head at the box office this weekend. But what kids are going to these movies without their nostalgia-prone parents? Find out which flick fares better for both audiences.
After the passing of Jim Henson in 1990 and the failure of 1999’s witless Muppets From Space, there was a very real fear that those lovably goofy puppets would go the way of the touch-tone phone, the typewriter, and the fanny pack. Tossed in a box labeled "Kitsch and ’80s Nostalgia." Today’s kids want more 3D, less felt!
"I guess people forgot about us," bemoans Kermit in his Sunset Boulevard moment in The Muppets. “Would anybody watch, or even care?” Jason Segel cares. The screenwriter, star and sentimental thirtysomething is out to prove the study groups wrong. With the help of his brothers in kookdom, cowriter Nick Stoller and director James Bobin (cocreator of HBO comedy Flight of the Conchords), Segal has updated the classic Muppet caper without throwing Gonzo out with the bath water.
We meet the Muppets years after their show’s over. Kermit lives alone in a Bel Air mansion with an ‘80s robot as a butler. Fozzie fronts a tribute band called the Moppets in Reno. Scooter works at Google, and Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris. Meanwhile, Muppet superfans Gary (Segel), Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter (a Segal-lookalike Muppet with bed head) learn of an evil oil baron’s dastardly plan to drill under the old Muppet Studios. To stop him, they need to raise $10 million—with a telethon, naturally. Time to get the band back together!
We still get the over-the-top musical numbers, celebrity cameos, wit and warmth, and the love of a pig and a frog. Meanwhile, the kiddies get a gaggle of chickens dancing to Cee-Lo’s “F—- You.” They giggle, you giggle. It works beautifully. Who was it who said, “As long as there are Muppets, there is hope”? —Laura Dannen
Call it the anti-Muppets. Where the Muppets are all id—think Kermit’s trademark flail—Martin Scorsese’s family film is quiet, beautiful, and sweet. Based on the award-willing illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the movie has pedigree to spare.
At its center is waifish Hugo (Asa Butterfield), an orphan living in a Paris train station in the early 1930s. The boy secretly repairs clocks, steals food, and tinkers with only company, an inert proto-robot called an automaton. Doleful Hugo needs an adventure and a family, not necessarily in that order.
The story unfolds with the precision and unhurried pace of Hugo’s ticking clocks. Scorsese shot in 3D but isn’t interested in gimmicks; the whirling gears of the station’s timepieces are mesmerizing but with none of the menace of steampunk. They pair well with with the silent films of iconic filmmaker Georges Méliès (remember the Smashing Pumpkins ‘Tonight, Tonight’ video?), which figure into Hugo’s de-orphaning. Sacha Baron Cohen does good comic work as the not-very-scary villain, while Kick-Ass chick Chloë Grace Moretz is Hugo’s distaff sidekick.
Can tots acclimated to manic Shreks sit through something so gentle without fidgeting? Perhaps so; Hugo has the feel of paging through an exquisite picture book before bed, the kind of storytelling that gives you good dreams. If ever there was a time of year for embracing childlike wonder, this is it. —Allison Williams
Hugo and The Muppets are in theaters nationwide Nov 23.