2011’s The Muppets was a welcome return for that delightful crew. It was a joy just to see Kermit and the gang after such a long absence. While I found that movie to be “reverent” of the Muppets, they really weren’t the stars of the movie. Instead, the stars were Jason Segel, Amy Adams and new Muppet Walter. The Muppets was a movie about the Muppets, not starring them.
Muppets Most Wanted is a movie starring the Muppets. Non-Muppet characters are secondary, other than the villains. This gives the individual Muppets more of a chance to shine, including some that got short shrift in the previous movie. Here the Muppets and their idiosyncrasies are in the spotlight. It makes for a stronger film, a funnier film. Muppets Most Wanted is one of the best family comedies I’ve seen in a long time.
Fresh off their reunion on the last movie, the Muppets have to decide what to do with the show next. The meet with an agent, Dominic Badguy (pronounced Bad-gee) who advises a European tour. At the same time, Constantine, a highly dangerous frog escapes from a Russian Gulag. While Kermit tries to book small venues and goad his compatriots into smaller, better know acts, at least while they are still getting their feet under themselves after a long hiatus, Dominic pushes for bigger venues and more elaborate shows. In Germany, while taking a walk in the fog along a deserted canal at Dominic’s behest, Kermit is switched with Constantine. He and Dominic are working together to steal the British Crown Jewels. So the Muppets act quickly runs out of control without Kermit’s steadying influence. Kermit ends up stuck in the gulag, matching wits with Tina Fey’s guard Nadya. Eventually, Kermit is rescued and Constantine and Dominic are thwarted.
The humor comes from the Muppets usual mix of slapstick, puns and absurdity. It is silly, but most of the material works. Constantine’s difficulty with English and his lack of effort to try and act like Kermit are pretty constant source of amusement. And there are songs, of course. There is no song in this film to match “Man or Muppet” from the last movie, but overall the songs are better.
Muppets Most Wanted it a better example of what makes the Muppets great than 2011’s reverent but distant movie. You get to see more of Gonzo’s weirdness and Miss Piggy’s vanity and Animal’s wildness. The star, as usual, is Kermit. He is the center that keeps the show going. Without Kermit the rest of the crew natural tendencies run wild, with the show becoming an overlong mess of absurdity and nearly killed guests. Still, in the movie it gets great reviews from everyone but Statler and Waldorf. Of course, those reviews turn out to be bought and paid for by Dominic. (Fozzie’s reaction to this revelation is gold. “Why didn’t we ever think of that?”) Of course, by letting the characters run wild the viewer gets a better example of what makes each of them interesting. I am still unsure if what I think of Walter. He serves as a straight man, a position largely unneeded when Kermit is around. He does have the outsiders perspective going for him, but the longer her is around the less that works. So I guess I’m fine with his rather prominent role in this movie, but I hope he finds a niche or is scaled back in the future.
The Muppets was already a greatly enjoyable film and Muppets Most Wanted improves on it in many respects. In a time when even children’s entertainment tends toward the cynical, it is refreshing to encounter something as earnest as Muppets Most Wanted. It is silly and straightforward and I love it for it.