The Muppets makes rainbow connection between classic characters and hip humor

Jason Segel and co. deliver deeply felt tribute to Jim Henson's creations

"I guess the world forgot about us," Kermit the Frog laments in The Muppets, a film built on the premise that Jim Henson's beloved creations have languished in obscurity since their heyday IN THE '70S on "The Muppet Show."

Director James Bobin and screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller infuse the new comedy with infatuation for Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, and the rest of the menagerie, while invigorating the Muppets' brand of snappy humor for a 21st-century audience. But whom are they kidding about the Muppets being "gone?" They've spent decades making TV series, commercials, clever Internet videos, and movies for the big and small screens — 2002's It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is a gem. In the recent run-up to The Muppets, you can barely turn on a TV or log onto the Internet without seeing one of the goggle-eyed characters on a talk show or puckish trailer.

Rather than overexpose the characters, The Muppets makes them more adorable than ever in a film that's funny instead of being merely corny. The film sets its whimsical tone by introducing two small-town brothers, Gary (Segel) and his brother Walter (Atlanta's Peter Linz), without ever pointing out that Walter happens to be a small felt puppet. Like many future entertainers, young Walter overcomes his childhood alienation by becoming the "The Muppet Show's" biggest fan, but as an adult, Walter stumbles across the news that evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to purchase and demolish the now-abandoned Muppet Studios.

Walter inspires Kermit to reunite the Muppets and stage a telethon to save the studio. The Muppets takes some downbeat turns, such as Fozzie Bear's dismal life as a has-been performer in Reno, but the high spirits and snappy pace leave the audience giddy. Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords" wrote and supervised the sweet, silly musical numbers — one of which, the faux-dramatic "Man or Muppet," could easily pass as one of the Conchords' R&B parodies. The Muppets' big telethon includes surprising pop covers that I won't spoil but left me gobsmacked.

With Amy Adams at her perkiest and Segel emphasizing his stature as an affable galoot, the human stars could be puppets themselves, while the celebrity cameos never bring the action to a halt. The Muppets arrives as the most delightful comedy of 2011, proving as inspirational, celebrational, and muppetational for grown-ups as the original show was for its young admirers.

But next time — and there should definitely be a next time — more Pepe the Prawn, OK?