It’s time to play the music and light the lights once again for yet another Muppet Show, but this time it’s a worldwide affair! Following up 2011’s The Muppets, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller set out to replicate the overnight resurgence Kermit and the gang saw not too long ago. Well, let’s be honest, the Muppets never really left and have never lost pop culture footing, but unfortunately they did lose a bit of their spark in Muppets Most Wanted. Don’t get me wrong – rating this latest showstopper simply on cinematic merits, Bobin’s frog vs. frog throwdown is still an entertaining delight full of warmth and humor, but something is missing, and it’s not just Kermit.
Immediately following The Muppets, our cast notices the cameras are still rolling instead of turning off, and reality sinks in – the studios have ordered a sequel! Kicking right back in with a musical number, it’s like we never skipped a beat, except for the introduction of a criminal frog named Constantine who bears a striking resemblance to Kermit. Can you guess what happens next? The Muppets meet a new idealistic manager named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who turns out to be, well, you read his name, and Constantine ends up switching places with Kermit. While the real Kermy is stuck in Siberia, Constantine uses the Muppet’s world tour for his own devious reasons without anyone suspecting a thing – except for a few suspicious minds. Can Kermit escape Nadya’s (Tina Fey) gulag and spoil Constantine’s plan before executing the most famous heist in history?
The most endearing quality of our Muppet friends is their hilariously self-aware nature and consistently tongue-in-cheek delivery. From the very first moments, we get Fozzie, Walter, Gonzo, and more singing a diddy about how sequels are never equatable to the original (which unfortunately haunts Muppets Most Wanted), embracing Hollywood normalities and trends. There’s a consistently satirical tone through each song and scenario, breaking the fourth wall for some more memorable laughs, but the sharp wit wasn’t as cracking this time around. Besides our introductory “warning” number, the Muppets felt more like plushy toys instead of jovial lambasters, being more a symbol of nostalgia than endearing characters.
Bret McKenzie returns as the Muppet’s songwriter after winning an Oscar for “Man or Muppet,” and he orchestrates another engaging string of musical numbers that showcase each human character’s vocal range. Whether it’s Tina Fey introducing us to Siberia’s snowy wasteland or Ricky Gervais’s jealous embracing of being number two, McKenzie channels kid-friendly Flight Of The Conchords style tunes – but I don’t see another statue waiting. Once again stemming from my main complaint, Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t have the same soul The Muppets had musically, feeling more like a childish singalong than deep, invested musical comedy.
Following in true Muppet fashion, a slew of A-list celebrities pop up in the strangest of fashions, scoring classic moments such as Lady Gaga appearing on screen singing with Tony Bennett, Céline Dion performing a duet with Miss Piggy, and Saoirse Ronan dancing ballet while jackhammers pound the stage – but nothing beats Tina Fey’s Nadya saying goodnight to Danny Trejo, apparently playing himself. Moments like these absolutely slayed viewers, poking fun at Trejo’s typically badass demeanor, and playing “who’s who” represents the most audience fun much like a good Muppets movie should do. Sure, little ones aren’t going to care that Frank Langella is doubling as a priest, but parents sure will get a good chuckle.
Reflecting on The Muppets, Jason Segel and Amy Adams were phenomenal leads who connected instantaneously with their Muppet counterparts. Muppets Most Wanted struggles in this sense, as Ricky and Tina offer disconnected supporting roles – not tightly woven relationships. Ricky Gervais enjoys coyly deceiving fan favorite puppets, and we certainly enjoy watching him, while Tina embellishes a thick, Siberian accent, but Ty Burrell stands out amongst the human characters as a “determined” Interpol agent. The problem? He arguably has the least amount of screen time.
In the moment, Muppets Most Wanted boasts glitzy productions, familiar Muppets, a devilishly awful Kermit impersonation, and smiling celebrity faces, but there’s no “WOW” factor this time around. We’re not given a true reason to remember why we love the Muppets so much, just a faint inkling that reminds us we do. Bobin and Stoller lose a bit of Jim Henson’s original wonderment, generalizing the Muppet’s most famous actions for a blander franchise watch, but there’s just enough puppet love to give the Muppets another successful run at glory. There’s certainly no need for the curtain to go down on Kermit’s fearless team of performers, but I do hope the next Muppet movie can capture Henson’s lively twinkle that brought so many famous characters to life.
Much like sequels do, Muppets Most Wanted feels like a downgraded watch compared to Bobin's original, but enough puppet-fueled comedy guides us safely from start to finish.