The Muppets couldn’t be unlikeable if they tried.
Muppets Most Wanted isn’t quite as fun as its predecessor reboot from 2011 – I think it’s the length (112 minutes) with just a bit too much time spent with new human characters – but it’s a commendable entry for everyone’s favourite puppet troupe, co-starring in their eighth feature film. The opening musical number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” warns: “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” They’re right, and they’re characteristically self-referential and self-deprecating throughout the film. “All we need now is a half-decent plot.”
In Muppets Most Wanted, the Muppets are approached by Dominic Badguy – “it’s pronounced Bad-jee,” Ricky Gervais clarifies – to go on a world tour. Kermit isn’t sure, but everyone else’s enthusiasm is enough pressure for him to cave. Badguy has plans of his own, though: the Muppets will perform in European venues next to museums, and while they’re performing, he and Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog and the No. 1 most-wanted criminal in the world – oh, and save for a mole on his left cheek, a Kermit doppelganger – will steal works of art next door. Kermit’s mistaken for Constantine and sent to a Siberian prison, but Constantine doesn’t sound like Kermit. Actually, I thought he was a cross between Borat and The Count, and the other Muppets believed him when he said he just had a cold. It often felt like the joke wasn’t in what Constantine was saying but how he we pronouncing some words. Ditto Tina Fey’s Nadya, a prison guard with a crush on Kermit.
Fey is one of three human characters in Muppets Most Wanted, along with Gervais as the co-villain and Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell as a French Interpol agent working on the museum robbery cases with Sam the Eagle. While Fey and Gervais undoubtedly have the most comedic pedigree, it’s Burrell’s bits that landed most often. A running joke about French work ethic was especially well executed. But each of the human characters needs her and his chance at the spotlight – read: a song, with Gervais duetting on “I’m Number One” with Constantine, Burrell singing his way through an interrogation on “Interrogation Song” and Fey’s hilarious “The Big House,” a prison welcome song on which she croons: “It’s no Hilton or Hyatt, but you’ll have a riot” – and I felt like the format added to the length of the film. The songs are great, and though there are more this time around than in 2011’s The Muppets, fewer are quite as spectacular or show-stopping as “Life’s A Happy Song,” “Me Party” or the Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet” – but none are cringe-worthy like rapping Chris Cooper’s “Let’s Talk About Me.” I did find that the songs in Muppets Most Wanted sounded more Flight of the Conchords-esque: Bret McKenzie is back in the songwriter’s chair and the numbers “Something So Right,” “I’ll Get What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” and the opener “We’re Doing a Sequel” are standouts.
There are celebrities galore in Muppets Most Wanted: in order of appearance (ish), Rob Corddry, Tony Bennett, Lady GaGa, Christoph Waltz, James McAvoy, Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, Jemaine Clements, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Hugh Bonneville, Saoirse Ronan, Celine Dion, Frank Langella, Zack Galifianakis, Chloe Grace Moretz, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hiddleston.
Muppets Most Wanted is a lot of fun and fans of the Muppets will be all too glad that they’re back so soon. But maybe what made 2011’s The Muppets especially special was that they were missed. It was the first Muppets film since 1999’s Muppets from Space. I love Kermit and the gang, but I’m hoping Disney doesn’t rush into another film too quickly.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)