Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by James Bobin
Starring Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, and Eric Jacobson
Walt Disney Pictures
Released March 21, 2014
The Muppets are back on the big screen, but does this “sequel” live up to the 2011 film that essentially ignited interest once again in the brand? While Muppets Most Wanted lacks the drama and overwhelming nostalgia of its predecessor, it more than makes up for that in laughs and smiles a plenty. The movie is insanely funny and astute, far from a film that you would want to imprison audiences from seeing.
While initial box office results are more disappointing and middling than encouraging – its opening weekend here in the United States totaled to a mere $17 million – I cannot think of any reason why moviegoers should avoid this genius blend of satire and parody in great Muppet form. It was evident in its marketing, and it translates to the actual film.
Muppets Most Wanted gathers everyone’s most treasured Muppet icons – even those you may have forgotten about, including Rizzo and Sweetums – in a breezy and ridiculously funny film that defines what makes a Muppet movie unique. The film starts from the second the last one ended on the streets of Hollywood. The showstopping conclusion sets the literal stage for the next film, in which the Muppets must come up with a plot for this sequel. Kermit and friends acknowledge how often the following film never quite reaches the levels of the original, but in this case, and in many ways, the sequel possesses a foundation to surpass the hilarity and cleverness of 2011’s The Muppets.
After determining the storyline of Muppets Most Wanted – focusing on a Russian-voiced Kermit look-alike (Constantine) who aims to steal the crown jewels of Great Britain with the aid of Ricky Gervais‘ blubbering Dominic Badguy – the Muppets set off on nearly two hours of crazy adventures and musical numbers.
The Muppets venture off on a World Tour, performing in various European nations to reach new audiences – both figuratively and likely literally, as the global focus is likely intentional to capture more international moviegoers. Kermit is kidnapped and placed in a Gulag, where he comes to meet guard Nadya (Tina Fey) and a bunch of prisoners that include the likes of Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo. Constantine “disguises” himself as Kermit to mixed results and some skepticism among Kermit’s peers, some of whom set out in finding the jailed frog. Meanwhile, Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell‘s Interpol agent follow the Muppets from one destination to the next, as they suspect a member of the musical gang is responsible for a series of stolen artifacts across countries.
Muppets Most Wanted‘s crime-focused format, much in the vein of The Great Muppet Caper and other movies from the ’70s, serves the franchise well. It proves reminiscent of some earlier movies, all the while remaining quite relevant. How relevant? Try its array of cameos. The Muppets accomplished this effortlessly and quite effectively, considering the regard people have toward the Jim Parsons appearance. In this film, the cameos vary between prominent (Trejo and Liotta are featured in several scenes) and extremely short. For instance, Tom Hiddleston‘s well-publicized appearance is probably around 15 seconds long. James McAvoy‘s is maybe five seconds. Cameos are just that: short.
But some of these are almost along the lines of that if you blink you will miss them. One of the best is Christoph Waltz playing himself, dancing the waltz with Sweetums. But my favorite is the “maximum security prisoner,” who you do not see until the last moments of the film. Yet you hear the person’s recognizable voice on several occasions.
The featured stars, though, are not even main actors Gervais, Fey, and Burrell, who all are in fine form here. The Muppets actually stay center stage in this sequel, as opposed to the previous movie, in which the Gary and Mary characters played by Jason Segel and Amy Adams almost trumped Kermit and Miss Piggy. The film wisely shifts the attention back to the Muppets, showcasing their amusing antics and one-liners. Needless to say, there are a ton of them. So much so that you are still laughing at one gag while another emerges on-screen. I could not stop smiling, as one laugh-out-loud visual was immediately followed by a joke or punchline. Writer Nicholas Stoller and Bobin, also credited as a writer, sharpen their craft in this hilarious sequel.
Muppets Most Wanted works on two levels. As a comedy, it’s among the best you will find in cinemas this year or any year. But as a musical, it is even better. Bret McKenzie‘s songs are that much stronger in this film, which may not have one singular song that everyone will be humming (like “Man or Muppet” from the 2011 feature), but rather several. The four-minute opening (“We’re Doing a Sequel”) is a tongue-in-cheek nod to how Hollywood often produces less-than-superior follow-up films, all the while simultaneously paying homage to musical numbers from the 1940s. Other songs belong in either the song parody category (“I’ll Get You What You Want” does disco justice, and “Something So Right” travels back to contemporary ballads from the ’90s, thanks to Celine Dion) or the absurdly clever lyrics category (“Interrogation Song” and “I’m Number One” best represent that).
“Something So Right” may be a contender for the Oscar this year if Disney promotes it right. The smart lyrics translate to wickedly wonderful sight gags, such as in this song, when we observe Miss Piggy’s “dream” of having two kids (a pink frog and green piggy) and growing old with Kermit. “Interrogation Song” has so much fun with wordplay and rhyming that you cannot imagine anything more inspired. Muppet versions of pop songs are also in full force, as we hear Miss Piggy singing “Macarena” and a penguin-sung version of Adam Levine and Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” In a sense, this replaces the chickens clucking along to Levine’s fellow The Voice judge Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” from The Muppets. Additionally, a new version of “Together Again” concludes the picture.
The film suffers in only one regard, which is tonal consistency. The film never determines what it wants to be. Perhaps the most prominent element (comedy) is where Muppets Most Wanted works best. Whereas the previous film more evenly combined drama and comedy, this film steers more toward laughs, which is all well and fine, but the minimally inserted dramatic overtones never sit quite right. Miss Piggy wants to marry a reluctant Kermit – not a new concept by any means – and this forced element strains the pacing. Similarly, the caper element works more from the Kermit side in the musically themed Gulag prison than it does in the European elements with Dominic and Constantine trying to steal these treasures. Nevertheless, at the end of the movie, what you want is a smart Muppet movie, and that is what you receive in Muppets Most Wanted.
Muppets Most Wanted may struggle in its structure and many shifts of genre, but it more than fulfills its supply of laughter, overflowing in intelligent comedic choices, situations and musical set pieces. This is more than a worthy successor to 2011’s The Muppets.
I cross my fingers that even if this film does earn the same high critical acclaim and box office figures as its predecessor that this does not equate to another long period of Muppets being absent from theaters. Raise the curtains and let the Muppets continue to shine brightly on the big screen. Muppets Most Wanted more than deserves a simple applause. It warrants a standing ovation for creativity and abundant humor.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.