It’s time to raise the curtain and light the lights again, as the beloved Muppets have returned to the big screen in a new adventure. Frankly, I was surprised Disney announced a sequel almost immediately after the release of the 2011 reboot (simply titled “The Muppets”) since it didn’t cross the $100 million mark at the US box office. And judging by the opening musical number of “Muppets Most Wanted”, I think Kermit & Co. had the same reaction. The hysterical song, called “We’re Doing a Sequel”, satirizes Hollywood’s obsession with second installments, even though as Kermit and Fozzie say, “everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” Other lines in this gem include: “While they wait for Tom Hanks to make ‘Toy Story 4”, and “Well, this is actually our seventh sequel”, which, in reality, is the truth.
Well, I hate to disagree with Kermit and Fozzie, but “Muppets Most Wanted” isn’t worse than their previous film. In fact, it’s even funnier. I haven’t laughed-out-loud so much during a movie in quite a while. In a cinematic world dominated by CGI, explosions and raunchy humor and yes, disappointing sequels, “MMW” remains true to the Muppets’ unique and genuine form, thanks to a smart, not overly complex script, loaded with smart, and above all, funny material that will appeal to both adults and kids.
British comedian Ricky Gervais receives top-billing as Dominic Badguy (which, according to him, is pronounced Bad-gee). He tells The Muppets he’s a talent manager who offers to take them on a World Tour. Kermit is hesitant to the idea, but everyone else instantly agrees and latches-on to Dominic.
Walter, who was introduced in “The Muppets” as Jason Segel’s adopted brother, is also a bit skeptical, but he and the rest of the clan have no idea what’s coming. It turns out that Dominic is the second most wanted criminal in the world and he’s working for ‘#1′ – the world’s most dangerous criminal mastermind, a frog named Constantine, who’s just escaped from a Siberian prison.
Constantine also looks very much like Kermit except for the evil frog’s mole. As part of their evil plan, Constantine switches places with Kermit (giving him a fake mole) and Kermit is captured and taken to prison. And Constantine covers up his mole, posing as Kermit as The Muppets continue the tour. The bad guys’ goal: to break into famous museums in these cities around the world while The Muppets are performing, with ultimately pulling-off the greatest jewel heist of all time.
Meanwhile, prison security boss Nadya (played by Tina Fey) refuses to free Kermit, even though she knows he’s innocent. And Sam the Eagle and Interpol officer Jean Pierre (“Modern Family”‘s Ty Burrell) are trying to piece together clues to solve the case but are having a hard time working together as partners.
If you’re not familiar with the style of The Muppets, you’ve got to know one thing going in: it’s all tongue-and-cheek – from the plot, to the dialogue, to the over-the-top goofy performances and musical numbers. Everything works because this is what The Muppets have been doing for over 50 years, and why fans continue to appreciate their style of humor.
“Muppets Most Wanted” delivers exactly what you’re hoping for, but also expands this universe with a few surprises, including the use of more Muppet feet than ever before. And while The Muppets have worked with real-life celebrities from the start of their TV series days, the number of A-list cameos in “MMW” breaks the bank. They include Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta as two of Kermit’s fellow prison inmates, Frank Langella, who delivers one of the film’s best lines as the priest at Constantine and Miss Piggy’s wedding (Wait – What?!), and one of the most famous divas in the world, who joins Miss Piggy for a memorable duet.
Often films in which popular character teams are separated suffer from a lack of the spark that made the teams great. But here director James Bobin does a nice job of keeping the energy level high with both storylines – the evil Kermit trying to make believe he’s the real Kermit and the real Kermit dealing with life behind bars without his friends. Gervais, Fey, and particularly Burrell all play to their comedic strengths and interact seamlessly with their felt and foam co-stars. They ham it up, but never try to steal the show away from Kermit and the gang.
“Muppets Most Wanted” doesn’t pack as much of an emotional punch as “The Muppets” (the song “Pictures in My Head” nearly brought me to tears), but it does have plenty of heart. It’s rated PG for some brief violence and rude humor. Anyone older than seven, whether already a Muppets fan or not, should absolutely enjoy watching these entertainment icons in top form.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Muppets Most Wanted” gets a B+.
Before “MMW” played in theaters was a brand-new Pixar “Monsters University” short – “Party Central”. Mike and Sulley attempt to turn a dull fraternity party into the campus event of the year. It’s clever and consistently funny, something I couldn’t say last year about the movie. Since this is all we’re getting from Pixar this year (unfortunately no feature-length film), it’s well-worth watching.