“With Segel – the heart and soul of The Muppets – being absent from the characters’ latest film, Muppets Most Wanted, the magic and the fan-element has significantly deteriorated.”

When the beloved Muppet characters hit the screen for the first time in twelve years in 2011 with The Muppets, it was a rousing, incredibly enthusiastic affair. I could only acquaint the theater-experience to rekindling with old friends who you haven’t seen in many years, but once you’re back together again, you remember all the fun times you had, all the laughs you used to share, and how much fun it was to be in the company of them again, even moreso seeing as how much time had passed since your last visit.

The Muppets was made fun because of the fact that its writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller clearly loved the Muppet characters and had a genuine respect for them. The affair didn’t feel like Hollywood resurrecting a hot commodity for the sake of quick profits, but rather, an event clearly made to emphasize the writers’ love for the Muppet characters and to have the thrill be enjoyed by a younger generation who’ve may missed the Muppets, what with all the ludicrous cartoon characters catering to their needs on Nickelodeon and PBS Kids.

With Segel – the heart and soul of The Muppets – being absent from the characters’ latest film, Muppets Most Wanted, the magic and the fan-element has significantly deteriorated. Instead of the 2011 film feeling like a quick way for Hollywood to conjure up extra money, Muppets Most Wanted carries a bit of that vibe. While Stoller returns as a co-writer, and the film’s original director James Bobin returns to direct and write as well, there is a clear lack of Segel’s valuable input that could’ve infused Muppets Most Wanted with less manic action and more celebratory nostalgia.

Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by
James Bobin
Cast
Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey
Release Date
21 March 2014
Steve’s Grade: B-

But not all fun is lost, as Muppets Most Wanted still finds ways to be funny and exciting, if questionably necessary. The film stars Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Badgy,” he claims), a producer willing to take the Muppet characters on a global tour he promises to be lucrative, sold out, and extremely valuable for the gang’s reputation. Some of the places they plan to take on are Berlin, Dublin, London, and Madrid. However, their tour commences during the time Constantine, the world’s number one international criminal, is roaming the streets, bearing a striking resemblance to Kermit the Frog except for a small mole above his lip.

When Kermit wanders into the wrong part of town on a tour stop, Constantine manages to glue a mole onto Kermit’s lip and use what appears to be green Carmex in order to cover up his own, effectively getting Kermit thrown in prison and Constantine to appear as Kermit for the global Muppet tour. It doesn’t take long for us to realize Dominic Badguy and Constantine are in cahoots together to corrupt the Muppet name and use them for corporate good.

It’s fitting to call Muppets Most Wanted the first actual sequel to a Muppets film, since all its predecessors were just linked together because of the Muppets name. This one actually acknowledges the events of the previous installment and opens with an enticing song and dance number about how sequels are never as good as the original (how ironic in this case). What Muppets Most Wanted surprisingly soars at is having better music than its predecessor, bringing more memorable tunes to the table from the aforementioned sequel song, to Constantine and Dominic Badguy’s hilarious song about Constantine being the number one criminal, with Dominic being number two, to multiple infectious dance numbers taking place inside the Gulag, a Russian prison where Kermit is incarcerated.


As expected, numerous cameos appear. Christoph Waltz is found dancing the waltz, Usher plays a theater usher, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo appear as prisoners, Salma Hayek shows up briefly, James McAvoy is a delivery man, Zach Galifianakis is a bum, and even Josh Groban gets thrown in for good measure. Even if the significance of the classic Muppet cameo has dwindled, it’s still loads of fun to see these actors clearly having a good time with their Muppet friends. Yet the one mistake still made on part of Popin and Stoller that was made even in Segel’s film was that the Muppets occasionally feel like side-characters in their own film, which many may find a bit disappointing. There is little time for witty banter between Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, the grossly underutilized Swedish Chef (who appears in a hysterical “Seventh Seal” reference that too few will get), and Animal, when Gervais, Gulag officer Tina Fey, and French Inspector Ty Burrell are all fighting for screentime in one way or another.

Muppets Most Wanted carries on for a breathless and very overlong one-hundred and twelve minutes, leaving me optimistic that if a third Muppets film linking to this rebooted franchise be made there are several more years to pass to make their return seem more welcoming and refreshing. If Muppet films are going to be churned out every few years, this will result in an audience burnout and a repeat of Muppets from Space, where lower box office returns will take place and an audience will grow extremely weary of a cast of characters they once loved. While the film packs plenty of laughs worth a recommendation, and many songs worthy of a download, I can foresee disaster if we’re not given about five or six more years to recover from Muppet fever.

NOTE: Pixar’s short Party Central precedes Muppets Most Wanted, a short featuring the cast of characters from Monsters University stealing party guests, food, and music from a neighboring fraternity using the wonders of one of those two-way doors in order to add to their slumping fraternity. The act is called “door jamming,” if you were curious. There isn’t much to this short as it feels like something simply tacked on by Pixar last minute to (a) further utilize the characters from the Monsters franchise and (b) stamp a Disney film with something of their own. The short is practically forgotten the minute it concludes. Steve’s Grade: C-.

Review by Lead Film Critic, Steve Pulaski