Adventure Comedy

Feel-Good Film Revue: Muppets Most Wanted

March 21, 2014Ben MK

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Here comes the fuzz

By Ben Mk

There are few family-friendly franchises that have held up as well as the Muppets. Chalk it up to nostalgia, but their special brand of song and dance humor is still as entertaining as it was when their first feature film debuted in 1979. The Muppet Movie garnered five sequels; and then, after a twelve-year hiatus, the series was revived amid much fanfare for 2011's The Muppets. And now, Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang — including writer/director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller and songwriter Bret McKenzie — are back for round two (or as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew would be inclined to point out, round eight) with Muppets Most Wanted.

Muppets Most Wanted doesn't just pick up after the end of 2011's The Muppets; it literally starts at the end of that film, with the first image splashed on-screen being "The End", spelled out with colorful fireworks in a starry sky. With filming wrapped, the Muppets are about to disband when Walter (Jason Segel's Muppet brother) notices that the camera is still rolling — which, as Statler and Waldorf point out, can only mean one thing: "They've ordered a sequel!" Cue the high-spirited opening routine, 'We're Doing a Sequel' — the first of many crowd-pleasing musical numbers to come — which sees the likes of Gonzo, Fozzie and the Swedish Chef pitching their from-bad-to-worse ideas for its storyline. Conveniently, comedian Ricky Gervais happens to be present, to interject with his suggestion: "How about the Muppets go on a world tour?" And so the wheels are set in motion for this latest romp. Although The Muppets' leads Jason Segel and Amy Adams aren't back for this go-round, the new cast of humans, in the form of Gervais, 30 Rock's Tina Fey and Modern Family's Ty Burrell — plus a neverending roster of celebrity cameos — more than make up for their absence.

Gervais plays Dominic ("it's pronounced Badgee") Badguy, the Muppets' smarmy, new tour manager — only he isn't a tour manager at all, but really Number Two to the world's Number One criminal mastermind, Constantine. But Constantine's no ordinary criminal; he's an escape artist/martial artist/explosives expert — who also happens to sound a little like Borat — and he bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain famous frog named Kermit. After a daring escape from Siberia's Gulag 38B ("Russia's premiere state-funded hotel"), Constantine's next stop is Berlin, the first stop on the Muppets' world tour. There, he switches identities with Kermit and begins the next phase of his devious master plan — swiping the crown jewels from the Tower of London and framing the Muppets for the crime. But in order to do that, he'll need to steal a map, a key and a locket belonging to the infamous Colonel Blood (a 17th century rogue notorious for his own attempt to heist England's precious jewels), all of which are secured away in various major cities around the globe (namely Berlin, Madrid and Dublin). And that's where the Muppets' world tour comes into play, with Dominic booking the Muppets to play those key venues, using the shows' on-stage antics as a diversion to mask their real agenda.

If that sounds like a lot of story for a Muppets film, it's probably because it is — Muppets Most Wanted clocks in as the lengthiest Muppets movie to date (though it's not that much longer than their last outing). That's because there's also a hefty subplot involving Kermit, who (after being duped by Constantine) is thrown into the infamous Gulag 38B, only to find himself under the watchful eye of prison guard, Nadya (Tina Fey), who forces him to help its prisoners (led by the trio of Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo and "Prison King" Jemaine Clement) to fine-tune their performances for the gulag's annual talent revue. And don't forget Ty Burrell, who plays a (stereotypically lazy) French Interpol agent named Jean Pierre Napoleon. Reluctantly teamed with CIA agent Sam the Eagle, he's hot (or, more accurately, luke warm) on the trail of Constantine, Dominic and the Muppets. The downside to all this Muppet madness is that it may be too much for those very young viewers in the audience, who might be hard-pressed to keep their attention focused for all of the film's nearly-two-hour runtime. But all in all, the pic has ample charm to keep both the young and the young at heart enthralled — especially thanks to the conga line of Hollywood Who's Who that turn up. From James McAvoy to Tom Hiddleston, Christoph Waltz and Chloë Grace Moretz — the list goes on and on.

But like any good Muppets film, the real star is the music. Songwriter (and one-half of Flight of the Conchords) Bret McKenzie — who won an Oscar for his work on the previous Muppets film — has outdone himself this time, with a hilariously infectious line-up of songs that bests the previous film in every regard. Each of the three main human cast members also gets to belt it out in their own tune: Ricky Gervais bemoans how "life's gone to the dogs when your boss is a frog", in 'I'm Number One'; Tina Fey sings the praises of Gulag 38B, in 'The Big House'; and Ty Burrell probes the Muppets for the truth, in 'Interrogation Song'. There's even a collaboration between Miss Piggy and Céline Dion that has no right being as funny as it is; and McKenzie's Flight of the Conchords partner, Jemaine Clement, delivers a rousing rendition of 'Working in the Coal Mine'. And although the film's musical finale, 'Together Again', doesn't quite hit the high notes it should, the high-water mark set by Constantine's Flight of the Conchords-esqe dance ballad, 'I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)', makes it easily forgivable.

The Bottom Line

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but nostalgia alone can't sustain a film franchise. Luckily, Muppets Most Wanted doesn't just run on nostalgia; it's also fueled by the filmmakers' keen understanding of just what makes a Muppets movie so endearing. Bobin, Stoller and McKenzie take everything that was great about their previous film and ratchet it up to eleven — giving audiences more A-list cameos, more comedic musical showmanship and more insane Muppet mayhem. It's nothing earth-shattering; just plain, simple fun. And it's what makes Muppets Most Wanted one of the most enjoyable Muppet adventures yet. [★★★★]

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