The Muppet Movie is a hard act to follow. Released in 1979, there have been a number of Muppet attempts to duplicate the first film's magic, none of which quite succeeded. I think that's due primarily to the first film's soundtrack, written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, which was nominated for an Oscar, and remains today a source of inspiration and cover songs. Now comes the latest attempt, the Disney-produced movie The Muppets, which is released on Wednesday, Nov. 23rd, starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and, yes, a whole bunch of Muppets.
Let's get this out of the way up front -- The Muppets Original Soundtrack isn't as good as the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. It's too closely tied to the movie for the most part to provide the universality that the Williams-Ascher tunes did.
Once you drop the notion that this is going to be as timeless as songs like "Rainbow Connection," you (and your kids) can enjoy the music from The Muppets on its own terms -- as a very good movie musical, fitting well into Disney's storied movie-musical history. It's not like you need to see the movie in order to understand what you're getting into (and I couldn't make the pre-release press screenings so I lack the context for the songs), but the soundtrack lays it out pretty clearly, even adding about 15 dialogue interstitials from the movie.
So that means you have familiar tropes like the character-introducing opening number (the excellent "Life's a Happy Song"), Act 2 conflict songs ("Me Party," featuring a duet between Amy Adams and Miss Piggy), and the-song-where-the-villain-gets-to-shine ("Let's Talk About Me," which features couplets like "I got more cheddar than super-size nachos / I got cashflow like Robert has DeNiros"). Those songs and one more were written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), who was music supervisor for the soundtrack and who, therefore, can be blamed for the inclusion of Starship's "We Built This City" on it as well. (Seriously, I don't care how funny the scene is in the movie -- was there no other song that would have worked?)
There are a lot of nods in the direction of longtime fans, such as Kermit's "Pictures in My Head" or Fozzie's cover band The Moopets "covering" "Rainbow Connection." The parents who'll be watching the movie will also be entertained -- the barbershop quartet version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sent the internet into spasms of (totally appropriate) apoplexy, and the Camilla and the Chickens version of "Forget You" (which I like to think of as "Cluck You") is a nifty way to satisfy the mixed audience for the PG movie. You can ignore the mostly superfluous cameos (I would not advise Joanna Newsom and Feist superfans to buy this soundtrack solely for their blink-and-you'll-miss-'em appearances), though Andrew Bird's performance on the "The Whistling Caruso" is cool and actually plot-relevant.
You can hear samples from the soundtrack here. It's totally appropriate for kids of all ages, though I don't expect kids under the age of 5 to be that interested. In the end, is The Muppets an album you'd listen to from start to finish solely for the music? Probably not. But as a complement to what appears to be (sight unseen) a solid entry in the Muppet canon, it works very well. It's recommended for any family who enjoyed the movie and wants to relive the musical high points.
Disclosure: I was provided with an electronic copy of the album for possible review.