Muppets Most Wanted, the follow-up to 2011’s commercial and critical hit The Muppets, writes its own review in the opening number. Together, the felt-covered friends sing, “We’re back by popular demand….There’s no need to disguise, the studio considers us a viable franchise….I thought it was the end, but no, my friends, this is when we get to do it all again….That’s what we do in Hollywood, and everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good…with Hollywood stars and a long line of cameos….All we need now is a half-decent plot.”
It’s a jaunty song and dance delivered with a wink and a nod, but this same knowing nudge to the audience of lowered, or at least potentially compromised, creative standards deflates some of the joys of this film. Though it’s still an amusing adventure with much to celebrate, it’s a few shades more cynical than its predecessor, which will leave some longing for the warmhearted feels of the previous movie. That Muppets Most Wanted takes place exactly where The Muppets left off especially emphasizes the colder tonal shift.
The reunited Muppet gang, fresh from its successful telethon, now feels invincible and ready to take on the world. When talent agent and undercover thief Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) suggests an international tour, they can hardly wait to set off. Kermit opts for caution though, insisting on restraint in their acts and advocating for smaller venues lest their newfound fame doesn’t quite yield the grand results they are hoping for. It’s the perfect opportunity for Dominic, who wants to use the Muppets in his scheme to steal the crown jewels. He takes advantage of the situation by indulging the other Muppets’ desire for insta-fame and success and effectively ousts Kermit as their leader.
I felt a twinge of sadness to see the Muppets taken advantage of, not so much on account of an evil plot but because of their own feeblemindedness. The Muppets may be wacky and have their squabbles but they’re not dim. The ease with which Mr. Badguy supplants Kermit makes the Muppets seem pathetic, not lovable. It’s even less of a fair fight when he teams up with notorious criminal Constantine, who bears a striking resemblance to Kermit save a mole on his lip. The newly escaped convict manages to swap places with the gentle frog, which means Kermit gets shipped off to a Siberian gulag while his friends, too wrapped up in their success to notice his absence, tour Europe with the world’s number one criminal.
The film eventually shows its softer side and sends comforting vibes of true friendship, but not before Kermit is left to fend for himself in the wintery Russian wasteland. Besides the humiliation of being locked up, a fierce guard Nadya (Tina Fey) forces him to help her direct the gulag’s annual revue, which is to showcase singing and dancing from the talent-less inmates (Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, Jermaine Clement, Josh Groban). The gulag scenes are some of the film’s funniest, with special mention to Bret McKenzie’s loungy “The Big House” and the prisoners’ aural assault on Boyz II Men. Their staging of A Chorus Line’s “I Hope I Get It” is also something to savor.
This part of the movie works well with Kermit taking center stage to calm the prison’s abrasive personalities. It’s unlike the other storylines that put more emphasis on the rivalries between Constantine and Dominic and the law enforcement agents trailing them, Jean-Pierre (Ty Burrell) and Sam Eagle. Their squabbling pushes aside the other Muppets, especially Walter, who had an impressive starring debut in The Muppets but is largely underused in this film. The glittery cameo list also fails to make a mark, though it’s nice to see so many superstar supporters.
Even so, this quick tempo-ed caper is good entertainment. With elements of danger, romance, and intrigue, it’s constantly rolling forward and gathers more energy as it barrels towards its explosive end. Most of the creative team is back for this installment, with the exception of Jason Segel, who acted in and co-wrote the previous film. They certainly inject their own style of quirky Muppet humor into the market, and musical director McKenzie again proves his unique comedy and song-writing genius with some very funny but very touching songs. Let’s just enjoy their gift for the time being and hold off on another follow-up.
“We’re Doing a Sequel” by The Muppets:
“I’m Number One” by Constantine and Ricky Gervais:
“The Big House” by Tina Fey feat. Josh Groban:
“I’ll Get You What You Want” (Bret McKenzie version):
“Interrogation Song” by Ty Burrell, Sam Eagle, and The Muppets:
“Something So Right” by Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog feat. Celine Dion and The Muppets:
Prod: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Dir: James Bobin
Writer: Nicholas Stoller, James Bobin
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Kermit the Frog, Constantine, Miss Piggy, Sam Eagle, Walter, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Scooter, Gonzo, Jermaine Clement, Josh Groban, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Dylan Postl, Celine Dion, Christoph Waltz, Salma Hayek
Time: 107 min
Country: United States