Muppets Most Wanted
The Muppets are back and they never “felt” so good
Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by James Bobin
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, the Muppets
There is, at this point in history, ample evidence that God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world ... so long as there’s a Muppets movie in theaters. Call it a nostalgic balm or the comfort of a familiar brand, but damned if watching the blissfully funny Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t make wars, earthquakes and other worldly concerns fade far into the background.
The Muppets are currently riding a groundswell they haven’t experienced in decades. Chalk it up to the late Jim Henson’s beloved brand being absorbed by Disney in 2004, followed by 2011’s hip motion picture relaunch, The Muppets, penned by (and starring) Jason Segel. Segel is off doing other stuff, but director/co-writer James Bobin (“Da Ali G Show,” “Flight of the Conchords”) returns for another pitch-perfect outing of epic silliness.
Muppets Most Wanted picks up, to the second, where the previous film left off. As the end credits roll, our felt-covered characters launch into a song-and-dance number about how “We’re Doing a Sequel.” (Sample lyrics: “It’s what we do in Hollywood/Though it’s never quite as good.”) It’s merely the first in a long line of self-referential jokes aimed directly at audience members. While contemplating what to do plotwise, Kermit and the gang are approached by fast-talking showbiz promoter Dominic Badguy. (Nothing suspicious there.) Dominic (played in perfect straight guy fashion by British comedian Ricky Gervais) suggests the Muppets go on a European tour, starting in the “World Capital of Comedy”—Berlin.
Turns out the tour is just the cover for an international crime caper. Badguy is secretly working for the world’s most dangerous frog, a Russian art thief named Constantine. It just so happens that Constantine looks almost exactly like a certain “Muppet Show” host/producer. One quick switcheroo later and mild-mannered Kermit is locked up in a Siberian prison camp while evil Constantine is leading the oblivious Muppets down the road to ruin.
The jokes fly fast and furious. They run the gamut from ridiculous puns to quite sophisticated pop cultural parodies. No matter what your sense of humor, you’d be hard-pressed not to find something to laugh at here. Of course, a Muppet movie would be nothing without a parade of familiar faces, and there are plenty here. Shades of 1979’s original The Muppet Movie, we get dozens of brief but inspired cameos. (Christoph Waltz performing the waltz? Why not?) A few folks stick around for the duration, though. Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) is clearly having fun as a Clouseau-like Interpol agent hot (well, more like lukewarm) on Constantine’s trail. (Just for fun he’s teamed with Sam The Eagle as an uptight FBI agent.) And Tina Fey (“30 Rock”) cuts quite a figure dressing up as the domineering warden of a Siberian Gulag. (Well, there’s a fetish I never knew I had.)
The film is chockablock with colorful action and slapstick pratfalls, which is more than enough to keep kids glued to their seats. But the film might play best with parents who grew up on the 1976-81 variety show. The gag-filled script follows up nicely on 2011’s nostalgic reboot and pays tribute to the original series by having the Muppets perform a number of their signature vaudeville-style acts. There’s a wealth of exquisitely amusing musical numbers as well—courtesy of, yes, Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. A disco-inspired R&B jam is straight-up hilarious, while an outsized ode to the joys of Russian prisons is nothing short of inspired.
This welcome sequel may lack the sweet emotionality of its immediate predecessor, but it makes up for it with near-ceaseless funny business. Between Muppets Most Wanted, The LEGO Movie and Frozen, it’s starting to look like kids’ movies are suddenly Hollywood’s best bets for rock-solid entertainment. Laughs, movie stars, lavish musical numbers and at least one highly appropriate Ingmar Bergman reference make Most Wanted a most welcome addition to the Muppets canon.