By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
Muppets Most Wanted | Directed by James Bobin | Rated PG
Whenever I review anything, I try to be as objective as possible. But, like any living, breathing person, there are some things that even I am guilty of falling victim to—and one of those is the Muppets.
Even today, I find myself fighting to be critical of anything that comes out of the Henson’s creation. While not everything is great, by any means, (don’t even bring up The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz around me unless you’re wanting to spark fighting words), there is something so endlessly charming and irresistible about these puppets. Even today, I have a hard time being objective to Muppets From Space.
Fan or no fan, though, one must admit that the Muppets hit a high point in their career with 2011’s The Muppets. Constantly funny, but also filled with a great deal of earnestness and heart, Disney was able to put together not just one of the funniest movies of the year, but also one of the best Muppets movies of all time.
Needless to say, when word came out that there would be a sequel released in the near future, expectations obviously were heightened.
To its credit, Muppets Most Wanted seems well aware of the pressure to live up to the previous film. And while this one does fall short in being equal to the last film, this new Muppets adventure is still able to be an enjoyable tirade of pratfalls, comedy and misunderstandings.
This sequel picks up immediately where the last film left off—literally. After concluding on the wrap of the previous film, Kermit and the gang break into song to rejoice that it is time to prepare for a sequel. Sure enough, they make one about Constantine—criminal mastermind and the world’s most evil frog that just so happens to have a passing resemblance to the Muppets’ leader.
When the two bump into one other and create a game of mistaken identity, the Muppets gang find themselves led by Constantine as they go on their latest world tour. While Kermit finds himself locked up in a Russian prison, Constantine and his second-in-command Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), control the Muppets to do their bidding as the two attempt to steal their way towards the crown jewel in London.
The biggest chip that this film has on its shoulder is that it lacks the emotional tug that the previous film held. What made that movie so good was not just the comedy, but the earnestness and sincerity that screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller brought to the revived property. Instead of this openness for pathos, this film decides to make it all about the comedy.
Which is fine enough. It certainly makes the pacing better, and keeps everything light. But it also means that the connections the audience have to these characters is not as prevalent—unless they already brought it with them before they enter the theater.
Despite being the star, executive producer, and co-screenwriter of the past film, Segel decided not to return for this installment—not even for a cameo. While his presence on the screen in the last film was a strength and a crutch for its quality, his lack of activity behind the camera is certainly noticeable this time around.
While Stoller returns for screenwriting duties, director James Bobin now joins him with the pen. While they certainly produce a funny script, they don’t make one that is anywhere near as sincere or genuine as the last one. This one certainly feels like a job instead of a passion project.
That’s not to say that these people aren’t having fun this time—I’m sure they were. But the love isn’t as present as it was the first track around. Instead, this seems more like a decision by the marketing time at the Mouse House.
But, as always, the Muppets are well aware of themselves, including their weaknesses, and this time is no different. Whether it is bluntly saying in the song “the sequel’s never quite as good,” or commenting on a criticism of the original film, the gang makes good use of their limitations. That doesn’t so much excuse the movie as much as it makes it slightly more enjoyable, and frustrating, knowing that they are fully aware of what they are, and don’t strive to be much more than it.
That said, while this may not be a great Muppets movie, it’s still a good one. Despite not being as arresting as the last movie, it strikes more in line with the spirit of the original Muppets movies than the last film ever really was. The Muppets, or, at least the original Muppets, are much more central to the plot this time around, and the plot never takes itself too serious, which provides a great number of gags and cameos.
There are more than a handful of good, genuine belly laughs here, and Stoller and Bobin make good use not just of the puppets and their surroundings, but their new set of humans as well. Gervais brings enough lighthearted sneer to make good use of his time. Also, Ty Burrell, as Jean Pierre Napoleon, gets the most mileage of his time in front of the camera.
Tina Fey, as Nadya, brings her usual quips and charms as well, even if she feels the need to ham it up a little too much at times.
Also quite impressive in this installment is the puppet work. The Jim Henson Company has come a long way from when Bert did the Pigeon Dance in 1973 on Sesame Street (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up on YouTube). The use of practical puppet work and CG is rather seamless, and continues to show why these guys and gals are so talented in bring these pieces of cloth and string to life.
While no where near as winning as its previous 2011 film, Muppets Most Wanted is still able to put together some strong gags and puns together from its gang of misfit characters. It may not go down as one of the most memorable pieces of cinema that I will see this year, but for the two hours that I was in the theater, I had a good, breezy time. Sometimes, that’s all you really need.
Having the Swedish Chef on the screen doesn’t hurt either.