There is something that is just so inherently likable about the Muppets. It’s hard to define, but I’ll give it a shot. Throughout my whole life, I’ve always found it really hard to attach myself to optimism in entertainment, particularly that geared towards kids. It feels disingenuous to me, like it is manufactured to keep a kid from being sad, and start annoyingly bawling. However, there is just an inherently genuine magic to The Muppets.
It’s silly, and it knows it, making fun of itself in the process. However, at it’s heart, it’s a story of a group of people (I use people loosely of course) who completely understand, and care about each other, and through everything that they endure, nothing can break that bond. They aren’t just friends because the script says they are, they are friends because they enjoy preforming and creating together.
Until Spider-Man came along, Kermit the Frog was my hero,
So naturally, in 2011, when the franchise revival, aptly titled ‘The Muppets’ was on the way, I was deliriously excited, but also worried that the filmmakers would not be able to capture that same magic. To say that the film proved me wrong would be incorrect. It grabbed me by the back, and pulled all of my nostalgia and love for The Muppets into one big hug. Words cannot describe the happiness I felt in one of the film’s final moments, where Kermit sings Rainbow Connection on stage, and then, like a true rockstar, Animal shows up late, and starts finally beating those classic drums again into the final chorus.
It’s one of the only times I’ve ever been genuinely choked up watching a film
So the question now is…how do they follow that?
Well, this is a query even the main characters in the film have a hard time answering at first.
The opening sequence of Muppets Most Wanted is absolutely brilliant. It starts out at the exact moment where the last film ended, with our main characters realizing that the cameras are still rolling, and as such, the studio has ordered a sequel. This launches the musical number ‘We’re Doing A Sequel’, a riotous, and frankly, incredibly catchy song that lampoons the expectations, creative troubles, and excitement of making a sequel. It is the classic muppet tone, and it evokes a similar feeling to that of the classic opening song of ‘The Great Muppet Caper’.
This sets in motion a story of mistaken identity, where Kermit the Frog is framed for a series of heists committed by lookalike Frog, Constantine, while on a world tour with the gang, headed up by the equally nefarious Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). While Kermit is thrown into the Gulag, Constantine infiltrates The Muppets, who inexplicably and hilariously are oblivious to the difference.
While the last film reveled in the nostalgia, and warm fuzzy feelings that come from seeing old friends make a comeback, this one completely embraces the manic silliness that made The Muppets such a success in the first place. The majority of the creative team from the last film return, including director James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords), screenwriter Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), and composer Bret McKenzie (another Conchords alum), and they do not miss a beat. This wonderful group infuses the film with wonderful, character based humor, and catchy, hilarious, and occasionally touching music.
All of the performers, human and muppet alike, are more then up to the task. Gervais fares well with a tone as eccentric as this, even if he seems to slog through his musical number, and while I usually am, to say the least, not a fan of Ty Burrell (Modern Family), even he manages to wring out a couple laughs as a Jacques Clouseau esque character, who with the help of Sam the Eagle, is hot on Constantine and the Muppet’s trail (as long as he gets his union appointed 6 hour breaks). The highlight however, is Tina Fey (SNL) who utterly relishes her role as a Gulag head officer. She’s so much fun to watch, that I hope they bring her back in the next Muppet Movie, even if it’s as a different character.
However, the movie never forgets that our felt fueled heroes are the the stars, and even if a character is not given an arc, odds are your favorite muppet gets one or two moments to shine. In my eyes, Constantine the Frog steals the show. His endlessly ruthless attitude, broken english, and zany physicality (this guy could kick any action hero’s ass) are just eminently funny. There is also plenty of solid material for our classic characters, particularly Kermit and Piggy.
Honestly, all of my problems with this film are very short sighted. For starters, I don’t like Walter.
Gahhhh, get him away! There’s just something that seems really childish, and quite frankly, a little creepy about him. He has nothing to contribute to the camaraderie, he’s just there because he was in the last one (something even the film is quick to jab at)
Also, I was just slightly disappointed that there wasn’t anything nearly as potent as ‘Rainbow Connection’ last time, some of the celebrity cameos are so quick that they might as well not be there, and ultimately, it feels about twenty minutes too long (especially with the admittedly awesome Monsters University short tacked on).
With that said, I have a hard time complaining about getting to spend some extra time with some of my all time favorite characters. Muppets Most Wanted is not as triumphant and moving as the last film, but it is just as funny (if not more so) and entertaining. It’s yet another rung in Disney’s hot streak as of late.
(Also, finally an excuse for people to stop singing those damn Frozen songs.)