Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends hit the road for a world tour in Muppets Most Wanted, a movie that doesn’t shine quite as bright as its predecessor.
The movie begins in very Muppety fashion with the characters calling “cut” at the end of the last movie and then deciding to make a sequel in which the gang goes on a world tour. Thus, Kermit (voice of Steve Whitmire) and company sign on with Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) — the name is pronounced “badgey” he says — as their manager. What they don’t know is that the tour is all a cover for Dominic’s boss, Constantine (voice of Matt Vogel), the world’s most dangerous frog. Constantine has a series of burglaries planned at museums near each of the Muppets’ shows. But the first step involves Constantine, who bears a strong resemblance to Kermit save for a Russian accent and a prominent mole, switching places with Kermit, who is promptly sent off to a Russian gulag. Though Miss Piggy and Fozzie (both voiced by Eric Jacobson) think Kermit seems a bit off, they accept his explanation that he sounds weird because he has a cold and they enjoy this new Kermit’s willingness to let them do any silly thing they want during the show, be it Animal’s infinite drum solo or Piggy’s set of Celine Dion songs. Only Walter (voice of Peter Linz) seems to notice something is off.
Meanwhile, Kermit is stuck in a Russian prison run by Nadya (Tina Fey), a secret Kermit fangirl who gets him to direct the gulag talent show.
Cornball charm and goofy cleverness — that is how I would describe what’s best about the Muppets and what’s lacking here. The cornball isn’t quite as charming and the goofiness isn’t quite as clever. The Muppets (and their cousins on Sesame Street) have always been good at mixing kid-friendly silliness and wiseguy humor aimed at adults, usually in the same scenes. Here, the silliness feels like an afterthought and the humor is more stale than sparkling. With focus on the human guest stars, the movie also seems to lose some of what makes its characters so loveable. Kermit, Piggy, Walter and Fozzie get screentime, but everybody else is just filler in crowd scenes. And, should these reboot sequels continue, some effort will need to be made on not making Kermit seem like such a jerk. Whether it’s in dealing with those zany Muppets (who in the last movie were the friends he was pining over) or in his relationship with Miss Piggy, Kermit is turned into some kind of whiny, felt Hamlet that just doesn’t fit with the sweeter moments about friendship and acceptance.
The best bits might, in the end, come from the human players — from the cameos (Usher’s was particularly cute) to the supporting cast. Tina Fey is a good addition to this kind of big comedy production, as is Ty Burrell, who plays an Interpol detective in an occasionally fun, occasionally over-long subplot. Muppets Most Wanted still has its moments of fun, even if it is fun at a lower volume than in past movies. B-
Rated PG for some mild action. Directed by James Bobin with a screenplay by James Bobin & Nicholas Stoller, Muppets Most Wanted is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios..