Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by James Bobin
Featuring the voices of Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta and Matt Vogel
From Walt Disney Pictures
Brings your smiles to new Muppet movie
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
The Muppets give me great hope for humanity. Their very existence is cause for celebration; their longevity and persistence an added triumph. Certainly, if our civilization can create Muppets, then there is good in the world, and that goodness runs deep.
This might soundly grossly overstated, to give such power to little felt hand puppets, but look at what those puppets represent, look at the spirit in which they were created, consider the reason they have thrived for this long — they are, from top to bottom, inside and out, stitch by stitch, happiness.
That happiness explodes from the screen in Muppets Most Wanted, a silly and rewarding follow-up to the great Muppet return in 2011 with the charming, plainly titled The Muppets. That movie’s last scene is this movie’s first: as soon as the Hollywood lights flicker off, the Muppets are once again hunting for an audience to entertain. Out of nowhere Dominic Badguy, pronounced like “badgey,” turns up and whispers the magic words — “world tour.” And off the Muppets go.
The movie is infused with all varieties of comedy bits and musical numbers. The first song is fantastically weird and unabashedly meta as the Muppets sing about how sequels are never as good as the original films, a statement they mostly render false. In one of the verses, they even hint at how Most Wanted isn’t really a sequel because, after all, this is actually the eighth film since 1979. One of the recurring bits involves Gonzo pleading to do a stunt called Indoor Running of the Bulls. It goes off in typical Muppet style, about as well as one of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s experiments, one of which is a bomb-attracting vest. Of course, Beaker is wearing it.
As the world tour travels through Europe — the German stop includes the towns of Vomitdorf and Poopenbürgen — it’s revealed that Badguy (comedian Ricky Gervais, as wooden as the Swedish Chef’s cutting board) is actually a master thief following a series of clues that will reveal a way to steal the British crown jewels. He enlists fellow thief Constantine, who perfectly resembles Kermit except for a mole on his froggy lip. After a stealthy switch, Constantine infiltrates the Muppets while Kermit is sent to a Russian gulag in Siberia — or, as the prison guards call it, a state-funded hotel.
In the gulag, Kermit meets a Russian guard (Tin Fey) who says his name like she’s training for some kind of over-pronunciation contest — key-herr-meat, she says struggling. Other prisoners are played by Ray Liotta, Jemaine Clement and Danny Trejo, who other characters simply call “Danny Trejo.” (What a sport: Trejo plays Thug #1 and Inmate #2 in more movie than can be counted and here he does it again as a gag on his career.) In prison, of course Kermit puts together a spirited gulag variety show with musical numbers, sets, props and a prison break that somehow escapes Fey’s Kermit-smitten guard — “I have Netflix and I see every prison-break movie ever,” she says earlier.
Back on the Muppets tour, Constantine is botching up the Muppets careful dynamic by saying yes to every terrible sketch, including Gonzo’s Indoor Running of the Bulls, Miss Piggy’s Celine Dion covers and Animal’s “DRUM SOLO! DRUM SOLO!” Kermit, it seems, is the glue that holds the troupe together. There are many celebrity cameos, including Lady Gaga, Salma Hayek and, inexplicably, Christoph Waltz. None of them are as invigorating as the actual Muppets, most of whom get choice scenes, including Beaker and Honeydew, Animal and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Pepe the Prawn, Rowlf the Dog and Fozzie, who is threatened with a fantastic line — “You’ve just wocka’d your last wocka.” Another great line that requires no context: “He’s too stupid to be stupid so he must be a genius.”
Two unlikely stars are Modern Family’s Ty Burrell playing a French INTERPOL detective and Sam the Eagle playing his American counterpart. In their first scene together they start comparing badges, a game of one-up that ends with an endearing payoff. Later, in a scene that simultaneously laughs at the French and ‘Murica, Burrell sips from the tiniest of coffee cups while Sam chugs on what must be a 10-gallon cup of joe.
This is not a perfect Muppet movie, if only because too much emphasis is placed on human characters, who frequently can’t keep up with Jim Henson’s adorable Muppets. It does have lots of jokes, and many of them are clobbered out of the park with spectacular send-offs. The movie has a Pixar feel with it’s humor: it caters to adults and children, and frequently finds middle ground as well. Take your family, they’ll howl through it.
Why are there so many songs about rainbows? Because they make Muppets smile. And smiles are the currency this world should trade in.