Muppets Most Wanted (2015)
The usual Muppets with Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey. Directed by James Bobin.
We’re doing a sequel! That’s what we do in Hollywood
And everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good!
We’re doing a sequel! How hard can it be?
We can’t do any worse than Godfather Three!”
Clearly, I am going to have to revisit The Muppets, the much-heralded Muppetational return to the big screen that I only felt so-so about, because Muppets Most Wanted made me feel all the things I hoped to feel in that film, but did not. This is a Muppets movie through and through, one to give every fan hope for a potentially limitless future in these post-Henson, post-Oz years. Everything is here: cameos galore, sight gags, tributes to classic films, stupid puns, awesome puns, new Muppets, old Muppets, huge musical numbers, memorable songs, and massive self-awareness.
The film picks up right where The Muppets left off, with Kermit, Piggy, Scooter, Fozzie, and Gonzo wondering what they should do next. The answer, of course, is a sequel, and they immediately launch into a new song, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” with help from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. And the Muppetness just keeps going. The company meets with its new agent, Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced bah-jee. It’s French”), who promises sold-out houses in all the major cities in Europe. Although Kermit is reluctant to commit when the Muppets have been out of practice for so long, his friends see dollar signs and adventure, so he goes along with Dominic’s plan.
Kermit bears an uncanny resemblance to the world’s most-wanted international criminal, and a mistaken identity situation (an old Muppets standby!) lands Kermit in a Russian gulag (administered by Tina Fey wonderfully affecting the worst Russian accent in movie history) while his doppelgänger disguises himself as Kermit, assuming an uncharacteristic hands-off management style his friends welcome, even while they’re puzzled by it.
I only have a couple of quibbles with this film. First, there’s not enough Kermit, because of that mistaken identity situation. The bulk of the action, by necessity, must follow the Muppets with their fake leader, which means that even Kermit’s scenes in the gulag are less than satisfying, because of course Kermit is at his best when he’s with his friends. Also, there’s really not enough of the old Muppets (although there is a surprising vocal solo line from Lou Zealand), something the film is aware of and even comments on. That’s pretty funny, but it doesn’t fix the problem. With all the exploding, they couldn’t find a quick line for Crazy Harry?
The songs are somewhat less than awesome, and while my expectations are unreasonably high, that bar was set by the Muppets themselves–where is there a less-than-awesome song in The Muppet Movie? The exception is Miss Piggy’s “Something So Right,” with an assist by Celine Dion and solo lines by most of the Electric Mayhem. That one is unusually pretty for a Piggy song, and easily the soundtrack’s highlight.
The film does almost everything else wonderfully, including a Muppet Show opening in Spanish. If that doesn’t bring a wistful tear to your eye and a warm laugh, I question your American-ness, sir or ma’am. And there is a reflective moment when Kermit, who has always hinted at a deep-rooted sadness and longing beneath his layer of green optimism (it’s what makes him so wonderful, that depth of character that Mickey Mouse and his friends never seem to pull off), expresses hurt and disappointment when he realizes his friends didn’t notice he was missing for so long. Oh, Kermit. How do you keep forgiving us?
Honestly, I can’t think of a recent movie that takes me so effectively to my childhood, that hits all the buttons exactly in the right way. This is what we call the Muppet Show.