Muppets Most Wanted
James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Predominant Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz; Cameos: Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Jermaine Clement, Sean Combs, Rob Corddry, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zack Galifiankis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Miranda Richardson, Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Russell Tovey, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz
PG for some mild action
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Sometime after Jim Henson’s death, The Muppets began to slide in popularity and quality. With the reboot film from three years ago, that luster had still been tarnished, but a new franchise was born. Muppets Most Wanted is less a departure from the original movies and television series than its predecessor, though it still has some ways to go to get back to where it was.
A comedic crime thriller, Kermit is mistaken for an escaped criminal whose sole distinguishing characteristic is a mole on his cheek. Incarcerated in the same Russian gulag from which Constantine escaped, Kermit must bide his time hoping that his friends will notice he’s missing and come to rescue him. Meanwhile, Constantine has infiltrated the Muppets with his second-in-command Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who has convinced the crew to embark on a whirlwind tour of Europe, opening acts in prestigious theaters not far from prominent banks that house trinkets that, when combined, will allow Constantine and Dominic to break into the Tower of London and steal the Crown Jewels.
Absent this film’s development is Jason Segel who co-wrote and starred in the predecessor, a musical extravaganza that bore minimal resemblance to the great Muppet Show and Muppet Movie productions nearly four decades ago. Without his participation, the film shifts tonally marking a more similar approach to style as those original efforts. The film is reminiscent of The Great Muppet Caper, the sequel to the 1979 film. Both films are crime thriller comedies focusing on the theft of jewelry and both are a bit more madcap than their predecessors. In this case, we’re looking at a marked improvement whereas Muppet Caper was a decline in quality.
What sets The Muppets apart is that they are able to blend adult and juvenile entertainment without pandering to the audience. The first film in the rebooted franchise took its slavish reverence of the original films and turned into a servile, toothless remake that resembled a cash grab rather than a true homage. This film is part homage, part original taking the audience to amusing places with copious sight gags, clever one-liners and a hefty amount of thoroughly outrageous set pieces.
Amy Adams was a fantastic part of the reboot, but Segel felt entirely out of place, a hapless buffoon trying too hard to seem genuine. This time out, we have no central human characters around whom the plot revolves. This was part of the reason the first film felt antithetical to the Muppets Universe. In all of the prior incarnations, the non-puppet characters were periphery, partly engaging with the plot, but leaving much of the heavy lifting to the hand-operated denizens of Henson’s storied creation. Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell are important characters, just as Diana Rigg was in The Great Muppet Caper, but they are not responsible for the forward thrust of the narrative, which gives this film a decided step up on its predecessor.
While the greatness of the 70’s/80’s era Muppets still has not resurfaced, Muppets Most Wanted is a satisfying step in the right direction.
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