Ricky Gervais and The Muppets, two of my favorite things, appearing together in the same film. For some, this team-up will seem utterly strange but for me it is a match made in Heaven. Don’t worry, though; he doesn’t make offensive jokes about religion or Karl Pilkington‘s bald head in this one.
Muppets Most Wanted is, as it itself acknowledges, a sequel. It also acknowledges that the sequel is never quite as good and in some ways it isn’t, but I still had zero doubts after watching it that these skillful puppeteers and joke-writers still got it.
The plot: Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog, has escaped from the Gulag 32B prison in Siberia. Bearing a striking resemblance to another frog named Kermit, he plots a scheme that relies on the two frogs getting mixed up and Kermit being sent back to Gulag whilst Constantine takes over the Muppet show. Kermit, meanwhile, is looking for ideas for a sequel to the last movie about the Muppets, The Muppets. He is approached by one Dominic Badguy, played by Gervais, who convinces him that the Muppets should go on a world tour. Badguy continues to make suggestions and grant wishes that make the rest of the gang like him more than Kermit. It gets even harder for Kermit after Badguy lures him into a trap where he is found by Constantine, put in a disguise (a mole on his cheek) and caught by the police.
Badguy and Constantine are partners in crime, but poor Badguy will always be “Number Two”. Together they will take the Muppets on a tour in Europe that will get the two of them closer to some of the most valuable riches known to man, even if they already have enough money to bribe newspapers into writing good reviews for the shows and practically handing out tickets. As this happens, Kermit is stuck in the Gulag prison where the top guard, a tough woman named Nadya (Tina Fey), seems to know deep down what frog this is and is willing to help him reunite with his friends and stop Constantine and his shady lackey once and for all. Especially when news reach Kermit that Constantine has proposed to Miss Piggy, and Piggy has said yes! I thought they already got married in Muppets Take Manhattan? Oh well.
There’s also Ty Burrell as a not too bright Interpol agent, Jean Pierre Napoleon, who teams up with Sam the Eagle to solve the mystery of the missing riches around Europe. Yet again we have – much like Black Widow and Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier – a buddy cop team-up I’d love to see more of. What a year.
On top of that, the film is, as ever, ripe with celebrity cameos, including but not limited to Tom Hiddleston as a Russian escape artist who doesn’t get to escape, Chloë Moretz as a newspaper girl, Zach Galifianakis as Hobo Joe, and Danny Trejo as Danny Trejo. Delightful. Most of the classic Muppets are back too; Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Dr. Bunsen, Beaker, Animal, Scooter, Statler & Waldorf, Rizzo the Rat (lampshading his absence from the last movie), Rowlf the Dog, The Swedish Chef and even Walter, a character invented for the last movie. Once more they’re wonderfully performed.
As per usual with the Muppets, their humour in Most Wanted often stems from being referential, both to themselves and to pop culture. You can tell, however, that this isn’t just a kid’s film and that the references and in-jokes are often written smartly, with grown-ups, i.e. those who have loved the Muppets the longest, in mind. One of my favourite gags in the entire film comes early on when the other Muppets are proposing sequel ideas to Kermit and The Swedish Chef presents a spoof of a certain Swedish film by Ingmar Bergman.
Sure, there are some things in the film that don’t work as well as you’d hope, such as the build-up of a certain character that doesn’t go much of anywhere, although that almost seemed to be part of the joke. There are, on that note, also certain jokes that didn’t have me laughing quite as loudly or consistently as the last movie and you could make the argument that it’s not the most original idea for a story. But I enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the comedy and I enjoyed the musical numbers, my favourite being the one Miss Piggy gets to perform alongside Celine Dion. There are flaws, yes, but even the great Muppet films of the past weren’t always purely perfect. I’d say Muppet Most Wanted is still one wickedly good time.
If you’re a fan, as I am, you’ll find that this is almost as good and faithful to Jim Henson‘s creations as these films get and you will surely be entertained through at least most of its runtime. I won’t give it my highest rating, but it’s definitely going to end up on my list of 2014’s most enjoyable pictures. Some will say we live in a movie world where the art of puppetry is obsolete, but as long as we have Muppets, well, I’m sure puppetry is going to remain with us. I do hope.
Down below is my rating and a trailer, but I advise that you also seek out some of the obligatory parody trailers that, amongst other things, read Tweets posted by fans. If only the movie was that funny.