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‘The Muppets’ launches holiday movie season

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Jim Henson’s singing, dancing, wise-cracking band of puppets returns to the big screen in “The Muppets” (Disney), an old-fashioned and genuinely funny homage to a simpler age of wholesome family films.

Refreshingly restrained when it comes to the toilet humor and rude behavior so often spoon-fed to young filmgoers these days, “The Muppets” will appeal to nostalgic baby boomers, even as it introduces a new generation to the decidedly low-tech felt figures for whom charm is a strong suit.

Gary (Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller) and his brother Walter (voice of Peter Linz) live in Smalltown, U.S.A. They’re good pals, despite the fact that Walter is decidedly different — in fact, he’s a Muppet. Together they watch TV reruns of “The Muppet Show,” which, as many viewers will remember, originally aired in first-run syndication from 1976 to 1981.

When Gary decides to take his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary, he invites Walter to come along and see the Muppet Studios where their favorite series was produced.

To their horror, they find that the Muppets have disbanded and the theater is in shambles. Walter stumbles upon the designs of wicked oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to tear down the studios and drill for oil — unless $10 million can be raised in just two days.

Walter persuades Gary and Mary to mount a rescue. “As long as there are singing frogs and dancing bears the world is a good and kind place,” Walter says. “There is hope.”

They locate Kermit the Frog (voice of Steve Whitmire), down and out in his Beverly Hills mansion, surrounded by memories of long-ago fame. Walter raises the frog from his funk, telling him, “You give people the greatest gift of all.”

“Children?” Kermit replies.
No.
“Ice cream?”
No.
“Laughter,” Walter reveals, “is the third greatest gift of all.”

Kermit agrees to stage a telethon, and sets out in his Rolls-Royce with his new friends to round up the old gang. Fozzie Bear (voice of Eric Jacobson) is discovered in Reno performing with a tribute band called “The Moopets.” Animal (also voiced by Jacobson), the manic rock-and-roll drummer, is taking anger management classes with Jack Black, who reluctantly becomes the celebrity host of the telethon.

In Paris (the Rolls drives there, underwater), Miss Piggy (also voiced by Jacobson) is the plus-size editor for Vogue magazine. She still pines for Kermit, whom she hoped to marry. “We could have had a home and raised tadpoles and grown old together,” she tells him.

But felt proves thicker than water, and the Muppets reunite, clean up the old theater, and start rehearsals for the telethon. As they assume their old identities, the brothers rediscover their own.

“Am I a man or a Muppet?” Gary asks. “Am I a Muppet or a man?” Walter asks. The answers come with good lessons about family, friendship, believing in yourself and following your dreams.

Directed by newcomer James Bobin, “The Muppets” contains several catchy songs and some exuberant dance numbers. Among the many celebrity cameos is Mickey Rooney, that old hoofer who knew a thing or two about putting on a fun show for the entire family.

The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.