In 2011, Jason Segel, James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller, and Bret McKenzie teamed up as writer/star, director, writer, and songwriter to revitalize a beloved, but practically deceased franchise: The Muppets. Their film, creatively titled The Muppets, was a poignant and heartfelt comeback story, reuniting characters like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear, who had been separated since 1999 when their last film, Muppets from Space, was released. Well, franchise successfully revived, it was time for this team (minus Jason Segel) to make a sequel.
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
The Plot: Riding high from the success of their last movie, but fearing the fame is fleeting, the Muppets seek new managerial assistance, and find it in the conspicuous but charming Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Meanwhile, the world’s most dangerous frog, Constantine, who happens to look exactly like Kermit except for a telltale mole, escapes from a Russian gulag, infiltrates the Muppets, and sets up Kermit to take his place back in prison, run by the fiendish, but also musically inclined Nadya (Tina Fey). Constantine and Dominic use an international Muppet tour as the front for their criminal enterprises, whilst trying to keep everyone convinced that Constantine is indeed their beloved Kermit, and avoiding the investigations of CIA agent Sam the Eagle, and Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell).
Mistaken identity plots are rarely that interesting. I guess it worked pretty well in Twelfth Night, but let me tell you, it did not work in Comedy of Errors. It’s acceptable for this film, but it has become sort of a tired cliché. We even end up with a classic, “But which one’s the real Kermit?” right at the end. The thing that really bothered me about this was that they didn’t even play it off as tongue-in-cheek like they do almost everything else. The Muppets are incredibly self-reflexive, even in this film, but they still miss some obvious comedic fodder.
That having been said, Muppets Most Wanted is pretty funny, but most of the humor is owed to the excellent songs by Bret McKenzie, who won an Oscar for his work on The Muppets back in 2012. Given the Academy Award and his success as one half of the comedy/musical duo Flight of the Conchords, it’s no big surprise that he delivers such clever, hilarious, and catchy songs. My favorite one might be the opening song, in which the Muppets all sing about doing a sequel, but about halfway through the film there’s a half spoken/half sung interrogation number between Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell, which is just as fabulous. Thinking back, though, the best songs are often not the really funny ones. I loved “Life’s a Happy Song” and “Man or a Muppet” from The Muppets, but the best song was the touching, moving “Pictures in My Head.” Even in the original Muppet Movie, the best song isn’t “Movin’ Right Along”; it’s “Rainbow Connection.” This movie didn’t have a “Rainbow Connection” or a “Pictures in My Head.”
I think that’s the missing factor: heart. Muppets Most Wanted lacks heart, and I think that is at least in part because it lacks Jason Segel, who didn’t reboot the franchise because he thought it would be funny and successful, but because he loved it and missed it. That, and the plot is a little boring. They should go back to doing literary adaptations, because Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol are both so good. You know the other thing that makes those movies great? A limited, focused human cast. As a flaw, I think, this movie was packed with celebrity cameos, including, but not limited to, Tom Hiddleston, Danny Trejo, Celine Dion, Hugh Bonneville, Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta, Christoph Waltz, Frank Langella, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Saoirse Ronin, Sean Combs, Usher, Toby Jones, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Josh Groban, and Stanley Tucci. Treasure Island had Tim Curry and Christmas Carol had Michael Caine, and except for a few scattered human actors, the rest were Muppets. Since they had so many needless cameos, there weren’t that many actual Muppets in this Muppet movie, a fact that I found rather disappointing.
Overall, I found Muppets Most Wanted a pretty entertaining viewing experience, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype, especially as a sequel to such a good movie. It had the humor, but lacked creativity, heart, and also Muppets. It’s worth watching, but maybe wait until it comes out on DVD. I guess I can’t be too let down, as Bret McKenzie includes a disclaimer in the lyrics of the opening song, “The sequel’s never quite as good.”