Director James Bobin’s 2011’s The Muppets was a successful franchise reboot to make Jim Henson’s creations relevant again.
Muppets Most Wanted should keep them there.
With Bobin back as director and replacing Jason Segel as co-screenwriter along with Nicholas Stoller, Muppets Most Wanted, while not as bull’s-eye funny as its predecessor, is an entertaining romp with laughs and smiles aplenty for children and adults in this musical send-up of 1960s whodunnits and spy thrillers.
The film picks up where The Muppets ends, at the finale of their rousing song-and-dance routine that celebrated their comeback. Segel and Amy Adams aren’t around for part 2, though the newly minted Muppet Walter (again played by Peter Linz) maintains his prominence in the story as Kermit and Co. contemplate their next career move.
The obvious answer is to make another film, as the Muppets launch into We’re Doing a Sequel, one of many clever songs by Bret McKenzie, whose Man or Muppet from The Muppets earned him an Oscar for Best Original Song.
The “sequel” has The Muppets going on a world tour at the behest of newly hired talent agent, Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Bad-Gee” in French and played with delirious zeal by Ricky Gervais), who is secretly taking orders from the world’s most dangerous frog, Constantine (played by Matt Vogel), a recently escaped prisoner of a Siberian gulag.
The criminal pair are plotting to steal art works from major European museums that hold hidden clues to an even bigger treasure.
“My name will go down in history as greatest thief of all time,” Constantine gloats.
“You mean our names, right?” Dominic counters.
“Of course. My name first. Then spacebar, spacebar, spacebar your name.”
The rivalry between boss and underling leads draws the wonderful song-and-dance number, I’m Number One, in which Constantine puts No. 2 Dominic in his place.
In order to pull off their nefarious scheme, Constantine — a dead ringer for Kermit, with the exception of a black mole on his right cheek, just above his mouth, and a comical European accent — assumes his twin amphibian’s identity, while Kermit is unknowingly disguised as Constantine — a mole glued to his green face — then promptly arrested and shipped back to the Siberian gulag.
Directed by James Bobin. Written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller.
A Walt Disney release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG for some mild action.
Running time: 112 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ****
Cast: The Muppets, with Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Jemaine Clement, Celine Dion, Ray Liotta.
★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very Good; ★★★ Good; ★★ Fair; ★ Poor
The frog-out-of-water gags rule much of the film from this point on: Constantine’s Euro accent delivery of Kermit the Frog-isms are consistently chuckle-worthy, and his wooing of a suspicious Miss Piggy through a romantic song, I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu), is the best number in the film.
Meanwhile in Russia, Kermit agrees to direct his fellow inmates in an annual talent show for the guards, but only after his attempts to escape the gulag are thwarted. The labor camp’s leader Nadya (Tina Fey, working a deliberately bad Russian accent) happens to be familiar to his breakout schemes thanks to The Shawshank Redemption, The Great Escape, and other Hollywood films.
Trailing Constantine and Dominic are CIA agent Sam the Eagle and his Interpol colleague, Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell). Theirs is an equally and mutually contemptuous partnership, one that affords the comedy potshots at European culture and lifestyle including the tiny cars and tea cups, and the relaxed work schedule. Or, perhaps, it’s a reverse mocking of Americans for our insistence at being different than our European cousins, with our big cars and slaves-to-work approach. This is a film, after all, that features the creators of the subversive HBO comedy series Flight of the Conchords: Bobin, McKenzie, Jemaine Clement, who has an extended cameo as a tough gulag inmate who can also sing.
Bobin and Stoller keep alive The Muppets’ tradition of tiered humor — jokes for children and adult, often within the same gag — throughout the film. How many family films reference the iconic chess match between Death and a medieval knight in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, as does Muppets Most Wanted, with the Swedish Chef in the knight’s role?
It’s all meant to be silly fun, of course. It helps that the human cast members — including the expected surprise cameos — are into the gags as much as their Muppet counterparts. This is best exemplified by Fey’s devoted performance of The Big House, shortly after Kermit arrives to her prison. It’s an ambitious song-and-dance number that involves her and a large cast of costars and extras.
It’s an ambitious musical number that would make Busby Berkeley proud. And more important, Henson as well.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.