When the Muppets were revived in 2011 by Jason Segel, et al in the lovely musical comedy titled, very simply, The Muppets, I rejoiced. For my money the Muppets are one America’s best cultural creations, and since they first hit the scene in 1955 they have produced a bevy of delightful, absurd, and unique entertainment for all ages. Now more than ever I think it is important to remember the legacy and importance of the Muppets. They are a low-fi entity in a high tech age, and that 2011 film successfully argued their worth and importance in a time when a few too many people may have forgotten them. Now, writer/director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller use The Muppets as a jumping off point for an all new adventure with these idiosyncratic puppets, and it is a little bit sillier, a lot more absurd, and filled with tons of hilarity and catchy musical numbers. Muppets Most Wanted continues the storied tradition of these beloved puppet characters and it is a hoot.
The biggest criticism levied against 2011’s The Muppets was that it eschewed focus on the Muppets themselves and instead was a film about the characters played by Jason Segel and Amy Adams. While I agree with that to an extent, I never saw it is a negative feature. I think it was a clever construction that allowed the film to very plainly deal with notions of nostalgia and time lost, while also interspersing the comedy and terrific musical numbers with strong emotional beats for all of the characters, both human and Muppet. Now that the Muppets have been successfully “re-introduced,” however, Muppets Most Wanted shifts the focus back directly to Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang, and in one of many bits of overt self-awareness it asks the question “what’s next?” As it turns out, the Muppets launch a world tour, stopping in many countries around the world and performing their particular brand of vaudeville. All the while the world’s most evil frog, Constantine, who just so happens to be a dead ringer for Kermit, plots a heist to steal the crown jewels and blame the Muppets. This is an obvious parallel to The Great Muppet Caper, and it turns out to be a strong narrative in which to frame this adventure.
Although it runs for 115 minutes, Muppets Most Wanted is a madcap, fast paced, highly silly film packed to the brim with jokes and ridiculous celebrity cameos. All of our favorite Muppets, from the more obvious ones such as Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo all the way down to the slightly more obscure characters are given lots to do, and the puppeteering is as complex and well designed as I have seen in any Muppet movie. The film finds a balance between sweetness as the decades old relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy is explored and meta-humor, as jokes and songs make references and observations as wide ranging as an extended riff on A Chorus Line or the film’s exuberant opening number, “We’re Doing a Sequel.” Although they are both relatively new to the fold, both James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller have mastered the personalities of these characters and the particular voice of the Muppets at large, and the legacy that Jim Henson created is in strong hands.
The film is divided in to three sections, and each one has a leading human actor that compliments the silliness of the Muppets. In the first section, notoriously dry and smarmy comedian Ricky Gervais plays a dry and smarmy criminal who poses as the tour manager for the Muppets world tour. Gervais’ character is named Dominic Badguy (it’s French), and he is able to make his shtick work well in a more family friendly setting. The second section functions as a mismatched buddy cop comedy, with Ty Burrell brilliantly playing an Inspector Clouseau-esque Interpol agent opposite Sam Eagle’s very American CIA agent. This section pokes much fun at the many cultural differences between America and Europe (some of these jokes land on just the wrong side of politically correct, which I loved) and their banter is absolutely terrific. The final section involves Tina Fey perfecting a Russian accent as a warden at a Gulag, where Kermit mistakenly finds himself captive. These three sections are interspersed well, and it all ends up blending well in the film’s climax. Best of all, Gervais, Burrell, and Fey all prove surprisingly adept at musical comedy, and they are all given numbers in which to shine without stretching beyond their limitations.
Much like The Muppets, perhaps the very best element of Muppets Most Wanted are the songs. Once again written by Flight of the Conchord’s Bret McKenzie (his partner Jemaine Clement has a small role in the film), the songs such as the aforementioned “We’re Doing a Sequel,” “I’m Number One,” “The Big House,” and “Interrogation Song” are clever, catchy, and perfectly highlight the humor and talent of both the humans and the Muppets. Perhaps best of all is Miss Piggy’s big ballad, “Something So Right,” which had me laughing and smiling harder than I have in some time. Therein lies the simple joys of Muppets Most Wanted. The film doesn’t have to prove anything as The Muppets did, nor does it have any particular message on its mind. Instead, it shows once again that the Muppets are able to provide musical comedy entertainment as only they can. Now how about a new Muppet Show?
Muppets Most Wanted is now playing in cinemas.