When you hear talk of the new Muppets comedy being a sequel, it’s kind of true, but not exactly. It’s a sequel to the series reboot that took off like pigs in space a couple of years ago when Jason Segel wrote what was essentially a love-letter to the fuzzy ones back in 2011’s The Muppets. Muppets Most Wanted is actually the seventh in the series, and while it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights that The Muppets reached two years ago, this new adventure is still hugely entertaining, surpassing everything achieved in the first five before the franchise started to drift south.
The new comedy musical starts at exactly the moment the previous film ended. The words The End fizzle from the screen, a director yells cut, and all the extras that gathered on Hollywood Boulevard at the conclusion of the last film disperse and go home, leaving only the cast of Muppets loitering the boulevard together as they ponder that immortal showbiz question, what’s next? Now, that’s funny, and it’s clever.
What happens next is the upbeat and lyrically hilarious song, We’re Doing A Sequel, where the whole gang sing of making a new film that Disney has ordered “while they wait for Tom Hanks to make Toy Story 4.” The song also points out that “the sequel’s never quite as good,” which, when you think of it, is a dangerous lyric to write. While it’s funny, it’s also the kind of line that makes it easy for a reviewer to quote then make a terse remark. In Muppets Most Wanted, it’s actually true. What’s missing is that element of warmth that Segel wrote into his 2011 screenplay. His love of puppetry extended to the most famous American puppets of all, and by lending his support and a certain amount of star power, he gave a fresh infusion to the return of the gang, sprinkled with genuine affection. Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t have that, but on the other hand, such a one-off achievement would be hard to duplicate. What we have here is a very funny caper with great sight gags, several upbeat songs, and a plot that continues to incorporate showbiz with the kind of humor that will occasionally make an adult howl.
Ricky Gervais plays the smarmy villain, Dominic Badguy, a name he insists is pronounced Bad-Gee. “It’s French,” he says. Badguy might live up to his name, but he’s only the sidekick. The real villain is a green frog with a Russian accent called Constantine who looks suspiciously like Kermit and sounds like Steve Martin doing his wild and crazy guy routine. What follows is mistaken identity. Kermit is relegated behind bars to a Russian gulag, while Constantine does his best to pretend he’s the Muppets’ illustrious leader and leads the gang on a European tour of major cities while secretly robbing museums of their priceless artifacts.
Ty Burrell plays a French Interpol agent called Jean Pierre Napoleon on the trail of Constantine the Frog, and the joke is the inspector only works union hours. In the middle of an investigation with Sam the Eagle – here a CIA agent with a much bigger badge than the Frenchman – Napoleon will look at his watch and stop for a break as ruled by French labor laws. When he suddenly gets a break in the case, he leaps to his feet to pursue the lead stating that he’s now working overtime.
The songs by Christophe Beck and Bret McKenzie are bright and funny. They may not have memorable tunes, but they work in the moment, particularly the bouncy and hilarious Interrogation Song. But in addition to the new material there are also borrowed and more famous tunes used on the soundtrack. When the Muppets board a locomotive to begin their world tour, The Doobie Brothers’ Long Train Running starts. Dancing inmates in the Gulag, including Ray Liotta and Machete’s Danny Trejo make their escape while singing Lee Dorsey’s Working In A Coal Mine, and in one laugh-out-loud sequence for fans of theatre, Kermit directs the musical opening to A Chorus Line complete with Michael Bennett’s original choreography. Whoever thought in this lifetime we’d ever get to see tough guys Liotta and Trejo declaring I Hope I Get It while putting on a makeshift show? That’s what makes the Muppets so much fun.
Even if Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t have that special something that Jason Segel brought to the franchise two years ago, it’s still a treat. It’s smart, creative and uses showbiz conventions in ways that even if it’s really only the adults that get the true meaning behind some of the self-referential jokes, it will still make all family members laugh.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 112 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)