A film review by Craig J. Koban March 28, 2014 

MUPPETS MOST WANTED jjj
 

2014, PG, 112 mins.

 

Ricky Gervais as Dominic  /  Ty Burrell as Jean Pierre Napoleon  /  Tina Fey as Nadya  /  Steve Whitmire as Kermit / Beaker / Statler / Rizzo / Newsman / Foo-Foo (voice)  /  Eric Jacobson as Miss Piggy / Fozzie Bear / Animal / Sam Eagle (voice)  /  Dave Goelz as Gonzo / Dr. Bunsen Honeydew / Zoot / Beauregard / Waldorf (voice)  /  Bill Barretta as Swedish Chef / Rowlf / Dr. Teeth / Pepe the Prawn / Bobo (voice)  /  Matt Vogel as Sgt. Floyd Pepper / Camilla / Sweetums / Lew Zealand / Crazy Harry (voice)  /  Peter Linz as Walter (voice)  /  David Rudman as Scooter / Janice (voice)

Directed by James Bobin  /  Written by Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin

MUPPETS MOST WANTED charmed the hell out of me within its first few minutes, mostly because of the sly way it acknowledges that it’s a sequel to the cherished 2011 entry and, as such, understands that sequels are typically inferior to their predecessors.  

In pure Muppets fashion, the opening section of the film contains a wonderfully self-reverential song and dance number called, yes, “We’re Doing A Sequel” that goes amusingly out of its way to relay the difficulties of follow-up films and how they can’t possibly live up to the quality of their antecedents.  It’s a highly clever way for the film to give an all-knowing wink to the audience by letting them know that it’s not taking itself too seriously. 

Alas, as scientist extraordinaire Dr. Bunsen Honeydew rather shrewdly explains during the aforementioned song, MUPPETS MOST WANTED is actually the eighth theatrical feature film involving everyone’s favorite felt and padded puppets, harkening back to the original THE MUPPET MOVIE from 1979.  So, technically, MUPPETS MOST WANTED is the seventh sequel in the series and not really the first, but…ah…never mind.  What should be noted is that the 2011 MUPPET film was crucial for re-energizing the somewhat dormant franchise and paying loving tribute and respect to Jim Henson’s iconic creation.  I adored the film for how steeped it was in our joyous collective memories of enjoying these character on both TV and in films.  For certain, MUPPETS MOST WANTED is definitely not the equal to the 2011 entry (it lacks its boundless energy, freshness, and high nostalgia factor), but it remains a terrific family entertainment and is consistently a giddily endearing delight.  

This sequel takes place seconds – literally – after the ending of THE MUPPETS, during which time the gang is approached by smarmy and manipulative showbiz agent Dominic Badguy (pronounced "Bad-gee" and played by Ricky Gervais, more reserved than expected) that finagles the Kermit and company to embark on a world tour, mostly against Kermit’s wishes (he senses something is afoul, but his team thinks otherwise).  What the Muppets don’t know is that Dominic has actually teamed up with the nefarious criminal Constantine, who looks alarmingly like Kermit in every detail, sans a rather large mole on his cheek.  Constantine manages to escape a Siberian gulag, after which time he plots to frognap Kermit and take his place, all while orchestrating a massive theft of England’s crown jewels.  

 

 

Unfortunately for poor old Kermit, he is indeed captured by Constantine and shipped off to a dark, dreary, and seemingly escape proof gulag, monitored over by Nadya (a delightful Tina Fey), who comes off as tough-as-nails Russian guard, but actually may have some obsessive tendencies towards Kermit.  Meanwhile, Constantine has placed himself within Kermit’s world back home (he covers up his mole with green foundation makeup and studies old reruns of The Muppet Show to change his Slavic accent to a more Kermit-ized one…with mixed results).  Of course, no one – not even Miss Piggy or Fozzie – notice that Kermit is actually Constantine, despite his increasingly odd and erratic behavior.  While Constantine continues on with his plot to destroy the Muppets and embark on his heist with Dominic, Kermit struggles to acclimatize himself to his new surroundings. 

Like the 2011 film, MUPPETS MOST WANTED takes great relish in not only poking fun at itself, but also with the types of heist/prison genre films it’s borrowing from.  I especially liked Fey’s very game portrayal of her rough and rugged minded Russian prison guard that has a predilection for breaking out into song.  This leads to one of the more inspired bits in the film of her forcing Kermit to help her stage a prison version of A CHORUS LINE, which hysterically features cameos by Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, and Jemaine Clement singing…roughly in tune together.  I also enjoyed the pairing of Ty Burrell and Sam the Eagle, the former who plays an Inspector Clouseau-like detective named Napoleon that teams up with the proudly American Sam to help bring Constantine to justice.  The film gets many solid laughs at the running gag of Napoleon’s francophone method of police work versus Sam's American approach.  Sam gets increasingly miffed by how much time his French counterpart takes for rest and eating. 

Of course, the star-studded cameo roster here is a long staple of Muppet tradition, and aside from Tyrell, Fey, and Gervais, MUPPETS MOST WANTED gets ample comedic mileage out of its many blink-or-you’ll-miss-them celeb appearances.  I guess if there were a weak spot amidst the human performers in the film it would be, oddly enough, Gervais himself.  He’s proved time and time again that he can be one of the most engagingly funny men on the planet with a scathing wit, but here Gervais seems a bit more withdrawn and keeps his sarcastic bravado in check, which is ultimately a bit of a disappointment.  He does somewhat redeem himself with a series of pithy one-liners and a sublime song and dance number involving that he does with Constantine, during which time the villain goes to great pains to emphasize that Dominic is indeed a lowly henchman under his subjugated rule. 

However, let’s be honest: we don’t attend a Muppet film for the human presence, but rather for its non-human presence.  Like THE MUPPETS, MUPPETS MOST WANTED wisely invests and celebrates its characters with a warm-hearted tenderness and satiric comedic edge.  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and even newcomers like Walter are such endlessly affable and welcoming creations because they are so well rounded, defined, and relatable as distinct characters.  It’s no wonder that within a few scant minutes of watching any of the MUPPET films that you become less and less conscious of the fact that these are puppets controlled by human performers; they just become real and tangible personas on screen.  In a relative age of heavy computer generated fakery that permeates the movies, it’s kind of an ethereal thrill to see that relatively archaic and simple looking puppets still can have more personality than just about any expensive looking, but half-hearted CGI creation. 

Having said that, though, MUPPETS MOST WANTED doesn’t achieve the last film’s deliriously energized highs and many of the songs here – great toe-tapping delights in their own respective light – are not that imminently humable a day after seeing them were the ones in THE MUPPETS.  The central heist caper in the script and its many other narrative detours leads to a somewhat over-padded and over-plotted feel to the film.  Lastly, MUPPETS MOST WANTED really misses the presence of Jason Segal and Amy Adams, who communicated a sincere love of the franchise and characters in every scene they occupied in the 2011 entry.  Yet, MUPPETS MOST WANTED has enough inspired gags and euphoric good will to help override even the most cynical of filmgoers and nitpickers.  That, and the film finally provides an answer (sort-of) to the age-old question of what kind of offspring would result from a Kermit and Miss Piggy union.  

The result seems to make sense.    

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