We are long-time fans of the Muppets. There was some geekery involved when Jason Segel and company insisted on their return to screen in The Muppets (2011). While amused by the Muppets Most Wanted (2014) trailers, we figured we would watch it when the mood struck. After all the philosophical and action films of late, Muppets seemed appropriate. Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted does not generate the kind of humor it requires to enjoy it; you have to be in the right sense of humor before hitting play. I recommend some sleeplessness and sugar, for adult and child both.
I do not wish to give the impression that Muppets Most Wanted will not garner a laugh. I was periodically overheard chuckling and snorting at the antics on screen. * The most amusing was easily the Seventh Seal reference (even without knowing the Ingmar Bergman connections). Ty Burrell’s Jean Pierre Napoleon’s caricature could be pretty funny. To reward the older fans, occasional references to Muppet history (often via classic gags) are interspersed throughout. And, of course, there are the cameos. If the badge-joke doesn’t do it for you, James McAvoy showing up at the UPS guy may work as an apology.
Muppet meta, Cinematic allusions** and Star guest-appearance are not the only thing Muppets Most Wanted has to offer, but it feels like that was what it was banking on. Sure, we cannot replicate the rendition of “Smells like Teen Spirit” from the 2011 film, but the musical numbers were only mildly entertaining (Celine Dion and Constantine numbers excluded)—as was the story itself.
That Kermit could be so easily replaced by the notorious Constantine is distressing. But the imposter can give the muppets and their audiences what they want. The critique of the entertainment industry is thinly veiled. Critics and viewers are bribed into audience and applause. The industry folk are persuaded that they need only to be in it for themselves to be successful—to be #1, not relegated to #2. Kermit, as hero, is the epitome of selfless virtue, his immobility on certain topics harboring only the best interests of his friends/audiences. The story is something both adult and child audiences will understand and probably feel good about. But as Muppets Most Wanted continued, I began to wonder how a child would watch the film.
I’m not sure how far the gags, musical numbers, and heart-warming story about friendship and cooperation will take younger audience members. So much of the film seems to be about understanding things like how funny it is to watch Ray Liotta (Big Papa) and Machete aka Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo) appear not only harmless in a prison setting, but to sing and dance. Even then, I’m not sure the gimmicks are enough to keep the adult audience entertained either.
While even the film includes a musical number admitting that “everybody knows a sequel is never quite as good,” should everybody anticipate that a sequel will be this mediocre? If you feel the need to say you’ve seen all the Muppet films, there are more painful ways to spend an afternoon, but do not pay much more than time spent on the venture–find an inexpensive rental and bulk bin candies.
*What was not as good a sign was Sean’s lack of humor; Sean being the bigger Muppet fan and having the broader appreciation for comedy.
**Was Constantine’s escape down the hallway homage to Old Boy (2003)?
Muppets Most Wanted (2014); Director James Bobin; Writers: Bobin & Nicholas Stoller; Editing: James Thomas; Cinematography: Don Burgess; Music by Christophe Beck. Walt Disney, Mandeville Films; Walt Disney.
Starring: Ricky Gervais (Dominic Badguy), Ty Burrell (Jean Pierre Napoleon), Tina Fey (Nadya), Steve Whitmire (voice: Kermit, Foo Foo, Statler, Beaker, Lips, Rizzo the Rat, Link Hogthrob, The Newsman), Eric Jacobson (voice: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam Eagle, Animal), Matt Vogel (Constantine, et al.), Ray Liotta (Big Papa) & Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo).
Rated PG for some mild action. Running time 107 minutes.