Title: Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin
Major Players: The Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey
Out Of Ten? 3.5
Entertainment franchises don’t come much more enduring – or endearing – than the Muppets. They arrived on British TV in the mid-70s, released their first movie in ’79 and have just kept on going. The breadth of their appeal made them a natural acquisition for Disney and, after the success of The Muppet Movie in 2011, we now have the follow-up, Muppets Most Wanted.
It picks up where the previous film left off and, although it’s careful not to bill itself as a sequel, the opening number rather gives the game away – and points out that sequels are usually never as good as the original. It’s meant to be a joke …..
Having finished the previous movie, the gang are wondering what to do next when they are approached by a potential new agent, the smarmy Dominic (Ricky Gervais) who persuades them to go on a European tour. He has an ulterior motive. He’s number two to criminal mastermind and frog, Constantine, who is a dead ringer for Kermit, except for a mole on his top lip. Constantine busts out of a Russian gulag, has Kermit take his place, and leads the Muppets on their tour while simultaneously staging a number of high-profile burglaries.
So, yes, it’s a caper movie and, no, the plot isn’t terribly original. In fact, even though the film has taken two years to reach the screen, it feels as though it’s been rushed and that the storyline has suffered. It’s more of a mechanism for another batch of songs by Brett MacKenzie (Man Or Muppet from the previous film won him an Oscar), although this time they’re unlikely to nab him any awards. Another rush job, perhaps?
With such a thin plot, director James Bobin appears to have tried to disguise it by lining up what must be one of the biggest ever roll call of celebrity cameos. After all, there’s an adult audience to cater to and they won’t miss the story’s shortcomings, so they’re treated to an extended game of Spot The Celeb – Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Christoph Waltz (dancing the waltz), Salma Hayek, Frank Langella and Tom Hiddleston are all there, along with Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo as inmates in the gulag and Stanley Tucci on sentry duty. And there are more – many more. As a device to keep the adult audience’s attention, it’s not a bad ploy.
What about the kids? There were plenty of them at the screening I attended and they were all remarkably well behaved. So the visual and verbal gags, songs, action sequences and general wacky mayhem that goes with The Muppets must have worked.
But for anybody who’s enjoyed The Muppets over the years, there’s definitely something missing. Muppets Most Wanted is more akin to a Kermit And Miss Piggy Show, with the other characters relegated to the side lines. We miss Fozzie’s terrible jokes and the likes of Rowlf The Dog, Gonzo, Beaker, Sweetums and Scoot all blend into one Muppet mass. Thankfully, it’s nigh-on impossible to overshadow Animal, who is the only member of the gang who isn’t convinced by Constantine’s impersonation of Kermit. Or, to quote him, “Baaaaaaaad frog!” The Swedish Chef has his moment in the spotlight explaining existentialism in the cinema and Sam The American Eagle gets a proper role as a CIA agent. In some of the best, and funniest, scenes of the film, he and French Secret Service agent Ty Burrell constantly try to out-do each other over the size of their badges.
The previous film had plenty of warmth and energy and some of that is lacking here as well. Of the human performers, Tina Fey comes off best as the commandant of the gulag, while all Ricky Gervais has to do is be oily, throw in a few David Brent dance movements and hope that we don’t notice they used a body double for him in the final robbery scene.
Don’t get me wrong. Muppets Most Wanted is a diverting and – occasionally – very amusing way to spend a couple of hours. I really wanted to like it and I did – but I expected to like it a whole lot more. I can’t even use the excuse that the film isn’t aimed at me, because it’s for everybody and I’m sure that children will love it. I’m just not so sure about the adults – especially as the Monsters University short that’s shown beforehand is actually better!
Muppets Most Wanted goes on general release on Friday, 28 March.