The Muppets came bounding back into theatres in 2011 with a sweet movie starring humans Jason Segel and Amy Adams that blended the right amount of nostalgia with just enough corny jokes to make it one of the year’s frothiest confections.
The new film from Jim Henson’s felt and fur creations, “Muppets Most Wanted,” is being billed as a sequel to that film, but it isn’t really. It’s more a return to the Muppet movies of old, packed to the gills with show biz in jokes, puns, songs and even a Swedish Chef homage to Ingmar Bergman.
It’s more akin to “The Great Muppet Caper” than Segel’s (who did not return for this film) vision.
The story picks up one second after the last one ended. Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang are on Hollywood Boulevard after their big comeback, wondering what to do next. A meeting with talent agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) seems to provide an answer. Against Kermit’s best judgment the Muppets accept Badguy’s offer of a European tour to open in “the world capitol of comedy, Berlin, Germany.”
What they don’t know is that Badguy is an associate of Constantine, the planet’s most notorious criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit. The evil plan is to replace Kermit with Constantine, and use the Muppets as a cover for an ingenious plan to steal the Crown Jewels.
The movie’s opening song, “Sequel,” is a tongue and cheek tune that melodically states, “everybody knows sequels are never as good.” Maybe so, but since this doesn’t feel like a sequel it’s hard to compare it to the last film.
The puns are back—“It’s not easy being mean,” says Constantine—and so are the tunes from Academy Award-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie and all the characters you know and love, but the movie feels different.
Whereas Segel’s Muppet movie played heartstrings like Eric Clapton strums the blues, “Muppets Most Wanted” has more of an edge. Well, as much of an edge as a movie starring Kermit and Miss Piggy could have.
The human characters—notably Gervais, Tina Fey as Nadya, a lusty Russian prison guard and Ty Burrell as an outrageous Interpol agent—are just as broad as the puppets which provides some laughs, but the emotional impact is blunted. To place it in an old Hollywood context, it’s more the slapstick of Abbott and Costello than the restrained, sweet comedy of Charlie Chaplin.
Still, the Muppets bring a good deal of goodwill with them and the movie shines brighter as a result. It’s hard not to giggle at the gags but an exchange between Fozzie and Walter hits a bit too close to an uncomfortable plot truth. “Looks like he’s planning some kind of heist bit,” Fozzie says of Constantine. “I hope not,” replies Walter, “they never work.”