This weekend saw the opening of the newest Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted. For mega Muppet fans such as myself, the weeks leading up to the release have been wonderful. I love seeing Muppets popping up all over the internet and TV, and I commend Disney for its extensive marketing efforts. I am a bit disappointed that the movie did not see a bigger opening weekend, but I think it still has legs in the U.S. and should do well overseas. If you have not yet seen the film and have even the slightest interest in seeing it, I urge you to get your booty to your nearest theater! I’m a bit perplexed as to why this movie got more tepid reviews as opposed to 2011’s The Muppets, because in my opinion, Muppets Most Wanted is the superior film.
I enjoyed The Muppets, and am a fan of both Jason Segel and Amy Adams, but I felt their character arcs were brought to a nice conclusion at the end of that movie. The Muppets served its purpose in bringing the Muppets themselves back to the forefront by playing heavily on the nostalgia factor for adults, while simultaneously resetting the Muppet franchise for a younger audience. It was heartwarming and fuzzy and left almost everyone in the theatre smiling –but it wasn’t perfect. The biggest complaint came from Muppet diehards who felt that there weren’t enough actual Muppets in The Muppets (a criticism that is humorously addressed in the new film). Muppets Most Wanted shines a spotlight on the wacky and wonderful antics of this loveable troupe of misfits and weirdos. The negative reviews I’ve read tend criticize the lack of warmth and the loss of the “centering” presence of Segel and Adams, to which I say: “Phooey!” This new movie is classic Muppet fun. It’s clever and chock full of zaniness. The Muppets were blowing things up long before they got a reputation for being warm and fuzzy. Maybe those who prefer generic CGI cartoons outnumber the amount of people who can truly appreciate Muppet humor these days, but I’d like to think there’s still room in entertainment for smart comedies that the whole family can enjoy.
Muppets Most Wanted picks up, literally, right where The Muppets left off. The gang, having just finished its big finale, is left wondering what to do next. This leads right into the fabulous and infectious opening number “We’re Doing A Sequel.” Bret McKenzie, who won an Academy Award for “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, was once again in charge of music, and he did not disappoint. (As an aside, you may notice that they sing “Let’s give it a name- How about The Muppets Again? It’s the Muppets Again!” in the opening number. The title was actually changed from Muppets…Again to Muppets Most Wanted after the song had already been recorded and filmed. I’m guessing the same is true for the finale, a clever update of the biggest song from Muppets Take Manhattan, “Together Again…Again.” Despite the name change, the songs still work.)
The deceptive Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) convinces the newly reunited Muppets to take their show on a world tour, which will serve as the cover for Dominic and his boss, the evil Kermit doppelgänger known as Constantine, to execute their heist of the Crown Jewels of England. Everyone except Kermit thinks the world tour is a great idea, and soon the gang is off. I don’t want to give much else away, but the action is nonstop, and there is plenty in this movie to please people of all ages and Muppet fans of all kinds. In particular, there were a lot of carrots thrown out to the super fans (bouncing baby figs!) and as a self-proclaimed Muppet Geek, I had a blast trying to spot all of the Muppets that appeared both in the background and in speaking roles. (Hugga Wugga! Mildred! Flying Zucchini Bros! Bob Benson and his Baby Band!) As always, there were plenty of great human cameos, too.
As for the rest of the top-billed cast, Ty Burrell fits in perfectly as Jean Pierre Napoleon, an Interpol agent who must work side-by-side with Sam the Eagle (who in truly wonderful Muppet fashion now inexplicably works for the CIA) to catch the baddies who are traipsing around Europe, stealing and defacing priceless works of art. Meanwhile, after being mistaken for Constantine, Kermit lands in what is apparently the most talented Gulag in Siberia, headed up by Tina Fey as Nadya. While every actor and puppeteer delivered marvelous performances, Matt Vogel as Constantine steals the show.
Vogel really gets to stretch his wings in this movie, with lots of screen time and two songs: “I’m Number One,” which also features a singing and dancing Gervais, and my personal favorite, the cheesy disco-era song used to woo Miss Piggy, “I’ll Get You What You Want.” Constantine trying to impersonate Kermit provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, and the fact that no one in the group even notices it’s not actually Kermit (aside from Animal) makes it even funnier. My group of friends was breaking out into Constantine-as-Kermit accents the entire weekend. I hope we get to see a bit more of the explosion-loving, karate-chopping, and knitting wonder that is Constantine in the future. (Though not necessarily at the expense of some of the more well-known Muppets 😉 ) The big show-stopping number (which also includes a big cameo) is “Something So Right,” which is by far Eric Jacobson’s best performance as Miss Piggy. I also want to give credit to Steve Whitmire. Even though he’s been the man behind Kermit for over two decades, he still lives in the shadow of the incomparable Jim Henson. Muppets Most Wanted allowed Whitmire to give us a version of Kermit with depth and a range of personality more akin to the character’s demeanor on The Muppet Show. I love a good Kermit freak-out.
Some of the best moments in the movie were the skits that were part of the show-within-a-show. As part of the traveling Muppet Show, we got to see the opening performed in Spanish, Gonzo’s live running of the bulls, and Christophe Waltz dancing the Waltz to name a few. Over in Siberia, Kermit takes charge of the Gulag’s annual review and we get to enjoy the aforementioned talented prisoners, who perform a hysterical take on “I Hope I Get it” from A Chorus Line, as well as a rousing version of “Working in the Coal Mine.” These segments harken back to the halcyon days of The Muppet Show, and have me convinced that The Muppets can still work in 2014 when they are placed in the right hands. The jury is still out on whether Muppets Most Wanted ends up being considered a box office success, but given the right time slot and format, I think that some sort of small screen revival in the vein of The Muppet Show style variety act is still a viable idea. A weekly show is probably not in the cards, but a special here and there, paired with the right celebrity guest (think more Jimmy Fallon and less Lady Gaga) could be just what the franchise needs to stay relevant throughout the next decade and beyond. Long live the Muppets, and if you’ve read this far and have still not ventured out the see Muppets Most Wanted… what are you waiting for?