In Muppets Most Wanted, Kermit and the gang attempt to capitalize on their return to fame, following their heart-warming reunion in The Muppets, by taking their show on a global tour. Despite initial protests from Kermit, who thinks the group needs to hone their act at home in America, the Muppets hit the worldwide stage – thanks to their new publicist, and conniving international thief, Dominic Badguy (played by Ricky Gervais).
Badguy is “Number Two” to world-renowned criminal, and Kermit the Frog lookalike, Constantine – who secretly places the Muppet leader in a Siberian gulag and, subsequently, takes Kermit’s place on the tour. While Kermit repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) attempts to escape the prison, run by musical-loving Nadya (Tina Fey), Constantine and Badguy use the Muppet tour as a front for high profile museum heists – with a plan to escape justice by framing Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang for their thievery.
Writer/actor/producer/Muppet-lover Jason Segel was heavily involved in development of The Muppets (2011), co-writing the script with Nicholas Stoller, and is often credited for the clever connection between the Muppet reunion story and thoughtful social commentary. Since Segel is not involved with the Muppets Most Wanted production, returning director James Bobin added co-writing (with Stoller) to his duty list this round. Unfortunately, whereas the sequel serves as an enjoyable Muppet adventure, Bobin and Stoller do not find the same nostalgia and cultural reflection that made The Muppets such a special film for both adults and children, alike. Muppets Most Wanted possesses all the components of a quality Muppet sequel – a kid-friendly message, celebrity cameos, catchy tunes, and quirky Muppet humor – but falls short in evolving the format in any meaningful (or particularly imaginative) way.
The main storyline is a competent but hollow foundation that drives Constantine’s malevolent agenda, provides reason for region-specific cameos (Christoph Waltz in Germany, for example), and will help sell the movie at foreign box offices, no doubt. Yet, in spite of international settings, Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t actually make much use of the various cities that are included – focusing on regional variations of the Muppet Show as well as each performance’s respective Constantine caper instead of allowing the Muppets time to cause actual mischief in the streets. Kermit’s stay in the gulag is equally entertaining moment-to-moment but relies heavily on familiar prison gags and tropes. Watching the famous amphibian try to corral a group of deadly prisoners into performing musical numbers is funny at face value but the scenes are lacking in trademark Muppet whit – which, in the past, turned worn-out jokes on their head for fresh and notable effect.
Muppet fans will be happy to see a large number of franchise characters present in Muppets Most Wanted – including a few that were not featured in The Muppets. As with most Muppet adventures, A-listers like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and sophomore star Walter, are heavily featured – drawing from classic series dynamics (Miss Piggy is planning her wedding to Kermit) while others are simply thrown in to round out the cast or contribute to a key moment. Overall, the Muppets Most Wanted spends less time developing or exploring new facets of the Muppet cast and simply relishes in watching established characters in motion.
That said, Constantine is an amusing addition – especially since his complete disinterest in the near-sixty year old Muppet Show helps highlight what’s so great about the franchise in the first place. Watching the evil Muppet attempt to mimic Kermit’s most iconic scenes or mispronounce key character names (Zongo instead of Gonzo) is an example of sharp Muppet humor that will keep kids as well as nostalgic adults engaged.
Human characters always take a back seat to their Muppet co-stars but the flesh and blood participants in Muppets Most Wanted are exceptionally thin. Segel and Amy Adams played quirky foils to the Muppets but they also served as a relatable entry point for moviegoers. For the sequel, nearly every human player is reduced to a cartoonish antagonist – without smart satire to differentiate their characters from cliches the film is parodying. Tina Fey’s prison guard, Nadya, offers an equal balance of clever and downright eye-rolling comedy beats – playing-up Russian stereotypes (and an overblown accent) for cheap laughs. Similarly, while Ty Burrell’s Jean Pierre Napoleon benefits from a fun French vs. American rivalry with Sam the Eagle, most of the pair’s recurring jokes become less (not more) enjoyable with every attempt.
Gervais is given slightly more to do, especially in the third act, but Badguy doesn’t present very many captivating surprises (example: Chris Cooper’s rap in The Muppets) that would differentiate him from the countless evildoers our Muppet heroes have faced over the years. Despite his character’s larger aspirations Gervais really is “Number Two” to Constantine on screen.
In keeping with the rest of the film, the songs in Muppets Most Wanted are also enjoyable but mostly unremarkable. Constantine’s “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” is the most entertaining of the songs, successfully playing-off bubble-gum pop music while also hammering home the film’s main message: sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you really want. Miss Piggy’s “Something So Right” and Tina Fey’s “The Big House” get major boosts from a pair of surprise cameos but, without their respective onscreen comedy hijinks, aren’t particularly inventive.
Muppets Most Wanted is a solid Muppets movie. Kids and Muppet fans will find plenty to enjoy but nearly every element of the production fails to capture the same heart and larger social relevance that was on display in Segel, Stoller, and Bobin’s 2011 collaboration. Still, while Muppets Most Wanted isn’t likely to wow casual filmgoers who gave The Muppets a chance three years ago, it accomplishes its primary goal – providing another enjoyable adventure with Jim Hensen’s lovable creations.
If you’re still on the fence about Muppets Most Wanted, check out the trailer below:
Muppets Most Wanted runs 112 minutes and is Rated PG for some mild action. Now playing in theaters.
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