Movie review: Muppets Most Wanted

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

To the eternal joy of anyone with a beating pulse, a love of the warmly chaotic and the irreverently sentimental, Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang are together again, again (no, the second “again” is not a mistype), singing, dancing and running some bulls (and Gonzo) to a theatre near you.

Barely has the final glitter fallen to the bitumen that everyone is launching into “We’re Doing a Sequel”, a very funny self-reverential musical nod to the fact that Hollywood loves an almost immediate followup to a successful movie – and The Muppets was insanely successful taking in at least $165 million worldwide.

Canvasing ideas throughout the number for their next movie that range from the recently derivative, courtesy of Fozzie who simply and obliviously parrots the plot from The Muppets to the Swedish Chef’s Ingmar Bergman-esque film examining the “existential conundrum of religious death” (featuring Death as a muppet of course) and Gonzo’s chicken-centric love story somewhere in-between, the lyrically witty, musically upbeat song by returning musical genius Bret McKenzie, is a perfect re-introduction to the anarchic hilarity of the Muppets.

And quite deliberately a reminder that without the steadying hand of Kermit, a showbiz pro who knows that Miss Piggy should never be allowed to sing five Celine Dion songs in a row or that Animal can’t limit himself to a audience-friendly short drum solo, the Muppets, god bless their delightfully oblivious to the consequences performance-loving hearts, will run riotously and ruinously amok.

 

Kermit, flanked by Scooter, Rowlf the Dog, Walter and Fozzie Bear, is most definitely, hilariously and wonderfully doing a sequel (image via Muppets Most Wanted official site)
Kermit, flanked by Scooter, Rowlf the Dog, Walter and Fozzie Bear, is most definitely, hilariously and wonderfully doing a sequel (image via Muppets Most Wanted official site (c) Disney)

 

And they do in spectacularly amusing style, embarking on a grand tour of Europe’s most prestigious playhouses at the suggestion of Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais, their new manager who is not who he appears to be on any number of hilarious levels), where it doesn’t take long for things to go zanily wrong in a way that only Jim Henson’s finest creations can manage.

It becomes apparent not that long after the opening number when Kermit is kidnapped and whisked off to a Russian Gulag 38B in snowy Siberia where is he watched over by Nadya (Tina Fey), a tough but kind hearted guard who simply wants to dance and sing in the gulag’s annual revue, just how chaotically messy life can get without Mr. “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” keeping everyone’s lovably rampant performance ambitions in check.

Replaced by the world’s most “Evilen Frogen”, to use the mirth-inducing faux-German name for Kermit’s smuggled in replacement Constantine, who with Badguy manipulates the garrulous, sweet hearted Muppets perfectly – they fail to notice that Kermit now speaks with a distinctly Russian lilt for instance – the real Kermit-less performers tour Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London, allowed to pretty much do whatever they want.

Which they of course do, with visual gags, witty oneliners, and musical numbers (which, while not quite the equal to those in The Muppets, nevertheless underscore why Bret McKenzie won an Oscar for “Man or Muppet”) aplenty while Constantine and Badguy get up to all manner of nefarious activities, pursued by one of the funniest law enforcement mismatched buddy partnerships for some time, Ty Burrell’s Interpol-based Jean Pierre Napoleon and Sam Eagle.

It’s clear that James Bobin (who wrote the script with fellow The Muppets alum Nicholas Stoller), the only man to direct two Muppets movies beside the great, much lamented Jim Henson, is back in charge with much of the same heart and wit from the first movie (which was really the seventh movie if you’re keeping count) very much in place.

 

Kermit meets Nadya, the start of a beautiful, intense friendship ... well at least as Nadya, who displays more than a few stalker-ish tendencies, is concerned (image via Muppets Most Wanted official site (c) Disney)
Kermit meets Nadya, the start of a beautiful, intense friendship … well at least as Nadya, who displays more than a few stalker-ish tendencies, is concerned (image via Muppets Most Wanted official site (c) Disney)

 

While it does lag in places, with the Muppets absence felt most keenly in scenes where their role isn’t front and centre – even so Fey and Kermit shine in a, yes I am not making this up, A Chorus Line-influenced gulag-set musical number – it never really flags in any noticeable way, riding along on a wave of cameo appearances by the likes of Lady Gaga, Ray Liotta, Josh Groban, Salam Hayak, and Tom Hiddleston to name just a very few, nostalgic nods to The Muppet Show, and the obligatory salutary lesson tucked in at the end.

It would be very hard to begrudge spending any time with the loveable Muppets or their human co-stars who to the last man and woman look to be having the understandable time of their lives, no matter how brief their appearance, but it may have been an ordeal had Bobin and Stoller not been such ardent fans of the Muppets and worked on crafting a script for Muppets Most Wanted that did these manic perpetrators of sweet, culturally-savvy mirth and mayhem justice.

But do them justice it does, bringing back Muppets both well known and not, in a thoroughly entertaining movie that remembers that daft silliness, deftly-expressed sentimentality and Vaudevillian slapstick can all co-exist happily in the one movie.

They get along so well together in fact that as you’re humming the memorable bars to the closing gulag number, and revelling in the amusing credits scenes (Fozzie Bear’s appearance is brief but delightful), you will be hoping that Disney sees the wisdom in bringing the Muppets together again, again, AGAIN.

 

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