Once upon a time in TV land, a humble, noble frog explained it wasn’t easy being green, a Swedish chef made children giggle with flying fish and a hook-nosed Gonzo taught us all that even geeks and oddballs could be loved by people of good heart.

And while it’s easy to get so lost in nostalgia over “The Muppet Show” – which won four primetime Emmys in five seasons during the late ’70s – that we overlook its flaws, the Jim Henson magnum opus nonetheless stood out even when it was new as a lovable, kid-friendly, values-affirming half hour of music, laughter and fun.

Imagine how such a TV show would stand out in primetime now.

That’s exactly the underlying theme of “The Muppets,” a new movie in theaters this weekend that is being showered in praise from both parents and kids alike.

Αt the theater where I saw “The Muppets,” children afterward literally leaped out of their seats after the final credits and began dancing – yes, dancing – in the aisles. Some of their parents may have felt the same way.

With TV today so polluted by such garbage as “The Playboy Club,” “Fear Factor” and “Desperate Housewives,” it’s no wonder “The Muppets” is being received as such a breath of fresh air.

The movie begins in a very “Ozzie and Harriet” small town in the ’70s, following the childhoods of Gary and his (adopted?) Muppet brother, Walter. But while the town is idyllic, Walter’s life as a Muppet among humans is trying, and he finds comfort and comraderie only in watching “The Muppet Show” on television.

Fast-forward 30 years, and Gary and Walter still live together, but Gary is wooing his girlfriend of 10 years, Mary.

When Gary, Mary and Walter take a long-anticipated trip to Los Angeles, however, poor Walter is stunned to learn that “The Muppet Show” lives on only in reruns, the Muppets themselves have dispersed and an evil oil baron is poised to tear down the old Muppet Theater to drill for oil.

Walter tracks down the Muppet leader, Kermit, and pleads with him to assemble the old gang for a reunion show telethon to raise money to buy back the old theater.

But, as the TV executives tell the reunited Muppets, “In this market, you’re no longer relevant.”

In fact, the film satirizes what is considered cool and “relevant” on TV these days, through a fictitious show called “Punch Teacher.”

Can the old-school Muppets show this cynical, value-less new world that there’s still a place for music and laughter and things like faith, hope and love? And Muppets?

That question is the primary theme and message of “The Muppets,” a direct allusion to the real world of the entertainment business. Indeed, the makers of “The Muppets” realize that today’s TV landscape is a sort of “Paradise Lost,” where something has gone wrong with what America puts out on primetime.

The film itself is funny and endearing. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but spoofs its idyllic-world genre and fills the screen with syrupy sweet moments and ’80s throwbacks that make it every bit as much a movie for Mom and Pop as it is for Junior. No, it’s no Oscar candidate, but the acting is fine, the music is fun and it’s very entertaining.

Αs for its messages, there’s some generic stuff about “believing in yourself” and sticking up for your friends and growing up and learning to love – a fairly innocent and fun movie for the whole family.

My only criticism of the film is that it may not realize just how significant of an issue it has touched upon. Something did go wrong with what America puts out on primetime. But the TV listings are only the symptom, not the real problem.

When the U.S. government, via the Supreme Court, decided God was no longer “relevant” – for that matter not even allowed in America’s schools – it began a societal shift that left more than “Ozzie and Harriet” in the dust.

By removing the antidote, the Supreme Court allowed the poison of fallen human nature to run wild in the veins of American culture, and “The Muppet Show” was only one of many parts of that culture to die off from the venom.

I applaud Disney for making a throwback film like “The Muppets,” and I’d encourage ticket buyers to consider patronizing it. But it’s going to take more than “remember the good old days” to put our culture back on track; it’s going to take Divine intervention.

Content advisory:

  • “The Muppets” contains one profanity – “oh, my God” – and one near-obscenity, “What the wakka?”
  • The film does have a bit more violence than one might expect, including a fist fight at an anger management class, some of the explosions and falling Muppets that were common on the old TV show and a human character who falls from a tower and is later struck by a bowling ball. There’s some other slapstick violence and a somewhat violent kidnapping, but most is for comic, not graphic, effect.
  • The film has some minor sexuality, including including some swimsuit clad folks on the beach of Cannes, France, some Las Vegas-like dancing girls, a “kissy-kissy” offscreen from Ms. Piggy and a bit of leg and cleavage shown by Mary. Two Muppets are seen kissing after the lights come back on, and Kermit tells another Muppet to “picture the audience naked,” which leads to seeing the audience in their undergarments. There is also a quick scene where Ms. Piggy assaults Jack Black, and she lands with her legs spread across his face. While not necessarily sexual, it’s an unneccessary camera shot.
  • The film’s only religious content is a scene where Animal must decide between an “angel” and a “devil” on his shoulder. In a pre-film cartoon, however, there is a lizard wizard character and a mermaid goddess called “Neptuna,” though neither of these are inherently occultic.

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