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'Muppets Most Wanted' a worthy sequel from Kermit & co. despite soft opening

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From the outset, Muppets Most Wanted  has a tough act to follow due to the success of 2011’s The Muppets.  After all, it’s hard to top an Academy Award-winning film that grossed $165 million worldwide. To the credit of writers Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin, this isn’t something the new film shies away from.

Photo: comingsoon.net

 

Taking place literally during the ending of its predecessor, Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and company take little time to bask in the success of their comeback. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The gang wonders which direction they should head when they are approached by Dominic Badguy (pronounced Bad-jee, played by Ricky Gervais), a promoter who (against Kermit’s wishes) books the group for a full-fledged European tour.

 

Little do they know that Badguy is carrying out orders of a  plan hatched by the evil Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” who happens to be a dead ringer for Kermit- with the exception of a mole on the right side of his face (in addition to having a sinister look that goes along with a shady European accent).

 

Badguy wanting the Muppets to trek across Europe is nothing more than a cover up for the heists he and Constantine have planned, which will culminate in the ultimate caper: acquiring the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Knowing he is too smart for his own good, Badguy sets up Kermit, who is captured by police and placed in Russian gulag, which is presided over by Nadya (Tina Fey), who beneath her seemingly rough exterior, harbors a secret crush on Kermit.

 

Although he’s still trying to ditch his accent, Constantine takes the place of Kermit (the Muppets are informed by Badguy that he is battling a cold), paints his mole green and allows the group to do whatever they please during their shows. For the Muppets, the results are disastrous, but Constantine and Badguy’s plan is going off perfectly- until their wrongdoings catch the attention of Sam the Eagle and French inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell), who suspect some sort of foul play, but aimlessly and humorously bumble through the investigation while interrogating several Muppets with no real success. As a result, the normally likeable and (dys)functioning family of Muppets seems to be getting torn apart at the seams. Will Kermit break out of jail? Will the other Muppets eventually notice Constantine is an imposter? Will he and Badguy get away with their crimes and put an end to the Muppets once and for all?

 

An enjoyable film that goes by quickly, Muppets Most Wanted does have some flaws. The musical numbers aren’t anything that blows you out of the water (although the prison dance routines are pretty hilarious) and the Muppets as a unit are fractured for a good part of the film. The group’s interaction as a whole seems uneven at times, and with the exception of returning muppet Walter, most of the gang has either developed massive egos or are too dim-witted or oblivious (even for the Muppets) to come to the realization that “Kermit” is acting way too strange (although it is passed off as a running joke). While Gervais’ traditional biting humor is altered a bit for the Muppet’s brand of humor, Fey and Burrell are the real standouts. Fey’s comedic versatility is on full display here, while Burrell’s role of Jean PIerre could easily pass for an extended Phil Dunphy imitation from Modern Family- and that’s a good thing.

 

Like most Muppet films, Muppets Most Wanted is filled with celebrity cameos. Usher, Zach Galifianakis, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Danny Trejo, Christoph Waltz, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, Diddy, Salma Hayek, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hiddleston (Thor) all make appearances and are effectively used the same way the earlier Muppet films used celebrities like Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Steve Martin and Telly Savalas- to compliment the movie as opposed to not overshadowing the Muppets.

 

While it’s unclear as to whether it was intentional or coincidental, Muppets Most Wanted is based in the same vein of 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper. It may lack the warm sensibility and freshness of The Muppets, but Muppets Most Wanted  is still filled with some of the same enjoyable clever, unassuming, non-offensive humor that continues to make the Muppets what they are: an American institution with continued staying power for years to come. Most importantly, a smile on your face is guaranteed. And despite the soft box office numbers for opening weekend, hopefully another follow-up is in the works.


 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: www.comingsoon.net