Muppets Most Wanted Reviews
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Despite its shortcomings in terms of pacing and character focus, 2011's The Muppets was a delightful revivification of the ailing Muppets franchise, making Jim Henson's iconic creations feel relevant once again. Striking while the iron's hot, 2014's Muppets Most Wanted retains director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, who actually improve upon their last endeavour, providing more laughs and plenty of inspired silliness, not to mention a superb selection of original songs. Whereas its 2011 predecessor was fundamentally the ultimate fan film, Muppets Most Wanted aims to get back to Muppet basics as if the gang never left. Thus, this new outing follows the template set by the original Henson-era trilogy, introducing a flimsy plot which blatantly exists as an excuse for gags, antics and songs.
The Muppets was imbued with a very meta narrative, chronicling the Muppet gang getting back together and setting out to reclaim their popularity. Muppets Most Wanted is just as meta, with the little furry guys wondering what they should do for a sequel. Kermit (Steve Whitmire) and his friends are soon approached by manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who talks the gang into embarking on a tour of Europe. Meanwhile, evil Russian frog Constantine (Matt Vogel) escapes from a Siberian prison run by Nadya (Tina Fey), promptly swapping identities with Kermit to send the famous amphibian behind bars while he takes control of the Muppets. Using the tour as cover, Dominic and Constantine begin pulling off heists across Europe, stealing artwork and artefacts which will lead them to a larger fortune. In prison, Kermit tries to adapt to his new lifestyle, eventually collaborating with his intimidating inmates (including Ray Liotta, Jemaine Clement, and Danny Trejo) to stage a talent show. Added to this, a bumbling Interpol inspector (Ty Burrell) teams up with C.I.A. Agent Sam the Eagle (Eric Jacobson) to investigate Constantine's burglaries.
There's quite a lot of story to work through in Muppets Most Wanted, but Bobin manages to juggle the ensemble quite effectively. All the Muppet characters are given a proper look-in - including Fozzie (Jacobson), Miss Piggy (also Jacobson), Animal (Jacobson again) and Gonzo (Dave Goelz), not to mention Walter (Peter Linz), the protagonist of the last film who's part of the gang this time around. And, of course, the inimitable Statler and Waldorf also show up on a few occasions to wittily heckle yet again. Although the flick is overlong at almost 110 minutes, it has a snappy pace and ample momentum, deploying plenty of amusing moments and uproarious set-pieces. Added to this, there is heart, mainly in Kermit's character arc - the subplot involving Kermit feeling underappreciated by his friends and rediscovering his mojo by staging the prison talent show is utter gold.
It would be easier create the Muppet characters digitally, but thankfully the makers of Muppets Most Wanted avoided the temptation, relying on old-school puppetry while only using CGI to erase rods and puppeteers. Hence, the spirit of the Muppets is retained, and it helps that the movie recaptures the meta disposition of earlier endeavours. Just like 1979's The Muppet Movie, the Muppets are all perfectly aware that they're in a motion picture, to the extent that the flick even opens with the troupe singing a song called We're Doing a Sequel in which they acknowledge the difficulties of attempting a follow-up. More than that, Muppets Most Wanted literally begins where 2011's The Muppets left off, showing the crew wrapping their work on the previous endeavour and discussing where to go next. The movie is playful and fun from the very first frame - there's even reference to fan criticism of the last film.
As with all Muppet features, Muppets Most Wanted is one step away from being a full-blown musical. Fortunately, the selection of toe-tapping tunes are of a high standard here. Only a few songs from the last picture were memorable (including the Oscar-winning Man or Muppet), but every musical number here is a winner. Written by Bret McKenzie (who was also involved with the 2011 film), the song list is absolutely fantastic, with a number of instant classics that'll prompt you to rush out and buy the soundtrack. On top of the insanely catchy original ditties, there's also a new rendition of Together Again (from The Muppets Take Manhattan). Plus, Muppets Most Wanted continues the great Muppet tradition of celebrity cameos. It would be unwise to spoil the surprises within, but rest assured there are plenty of recognisable faces, amplifying the sense of fun.
Luckily, Muppets Most Wanted returns Kermit and Miss Piggy to the fore where they belong. Both Jason Segel and Amy Adams stepped away for this instalment, but you honestly won't miss them. All of the Muppet performers give it their all here, and still have wonderful singing voices. Of course, one still misses the vocal talents of Frank Oz and Jim Henson, and some of the roles never sound quite right, but it's easy to overlook this aspect and enjoy the ride. The human factor is also solid here, with the likes of Gervais clearly having a ball playing alongside the ironic felt creatures. But Fey is the standout, espousing a cartoonish Russian accent and filling her performance with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Burrell is amusing as the Clouseau-esque Interpol agent, making for a perfect companion for Sam the Eagle. Amusingly, Sam is actually the straight man here to Burrell's bumbling Frenchman, whose behaviour frustrates the American bird to no end.
Purists may continue to complain about Frank Oz's exclusion, as well as the fact that Muppets Most Wanted has a few trivial similarities to The Great Muppet Caper and even climaxes with a wedding between Kermit and Miss Piggy even though they ostensibly married in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Yet, Oz's exclusion was his choice alone and it's no fault of the filmmakers. Plus, the story isn't anything like The Great Muppet Caper at all, and the wedding in Manhattan was just part of a show. Besides, since when was continuity ever a big deal in this franchise? Kermit and Fozzie were identical twin brothers in The Great Muppet Caper, after all.
Muppets Most Wanted is small-scale, good-natured and light, which is good enough. It's funny and the songs work, which is what matters the most in a Muppet movie. Best of all, it's a family film suitable for the kids which also works for adults and franchise fans. Bobin and Stoller have truly found their groove for this instalment, creating plenty of madcap antics for the Muppets while sustaining love and respect for the long-standing entertainers.
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Constantine, the world's most wanted villain has a deceptive plot to steal the royal jewels (or something of the sort). Incidentally, he looks exactly like Kermit the Frog, with the only visible difference being a mole on his right cheek. He frames Kermit for his crimes, and convinces the Muppet gang that HE is the actual Kermit.
Most of the crew from the first film returns, including director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller, and much of the Muppet cast (leads from the previous film, Jason Segel and Amy Adams, do not appear). And yet, Muppets Most Wanted is no where near the comic brilliance of the 2011 reboot. It's still perfectly watchable (and recommendable) entertainment, but it fails to meet (or even come especially close to meeting) the standard set by its predecessor.
With that being said, Muppets Most Wanted is actually closer in feel and tone to Henson's original films than the 2011 reboot. With this in mind, Muppets Most Wanted actually might appeal more to fans of the original movies. Personally, Henson's films have been a bit of a hit-or-miss commodity for me, and I found the 2011 reboot to be much more accessible and entertaining. Nevertheless, Muppets Most Wanted finds something of a balance between the two, which might create an appealing middle ground to those who adored the 2011 reboot, and those that found it blasphemous.
The script isn't consistently funny, and this could be a major problem. However, in this case, the gags come at a reasonably rapid pace, so if a gag makes you groan, you won't have much time to consider that, because you'll be smiling a few seconds later. Alas, this reveals another issue with Muppets Most Wanted, and that is that it's rarely laugh-out-loud funny. You'll probably smile your way throughout most of the picture (and there's a generous array of chuckles dispersed throughout as well), but genuine laughs are rare. As a result, you may find the film to be much worse in retrospect.
As far as The Muppets themselves go, there is inevitably not enough screentime to give ample attention to all of them. Kermit, Constantine, Miss Piggy, Walter, and Fozzy get the most screentime (Animal and Scooter get a fair bit as well). The other Muppets, while mostly not forgotten (in fact, a lovely cameo references the Muppets that actually WERE forgotten in the last film), have much smaller bits. Often getting only a single memorable scene (or even line) to themselves.
But also problematic in this field is the roles of Kermit, Walter, and Scooter. Kermit is typically the level-headed member of the gang, but he's in a Russian prison for most of the film. So logically, this should leave Scooter as the one to take his place in this role, balancing the sanity with the insanity. Alas, this becomes sort of a shared role between Scooter and Walter, which makes the characters seem both redundant and unnecessary. Furthermore, this forces Scooter to do things that seem outside of his character in order to accommodate Walter. It's a bit frustrating, and certainly sloppy, but is there really any better alternative?
As I mentioned, there are absolutely more songs in this film. "We're Doing a Sequel" has some great zingers, and the tune is guaranteed to be a nostalgic one in (give or take) 20 years. But it's also a bit of a curiosity, has it decidedly names the movie during the song; but not as Muppets Most Wanted. Rather, it dubs itself "Muppets...Again." This was actually the original title, but it was later changed to the much less charming (but considerably less awkward), Muppets Most Wanted. This problem recurs in the closing number.
"I'm Number One" is a surprisingly funny number between Constantine and his partner, Dominic, where Constantine elaborates on how he is the most wanted criminal in the world, while Dominic, is only number two. "The Big House," detailing the Russian Prison is immediately forgettable, and relatively uninteresting. "I'll Get You What You Want" falls under the same criteria. The "Interrogation Song" is perhaps the highlight. It's not as flashy as some of the other numbers, but I daresay I chuckled the most during this song. "Something So Right," (which is this film's equivalent of "Man or Muppet") is notable for its camp value, but little else. Lastly, the closing number, "Together Again," (from The Muppets Take Manhattan) is sheer nostalgic bliss, even if the original number is superior. There's also a Spanish arrangement of the Muppet Show theme that's an amusing addition.
The performances by the Muppets are what you'd expect. Voices that mostly sound the same as the originals (though some differences are more apparent than others), that are perfectly zany, and capable of delivering punch lines. The human cast is seemingly enormous (due to a massive amount of cameos that I'll let you discover on your own), but there are really just three primary players. One is Ricky Gervais as Dominic Badguy (who is, as you can see, one of the film's antagonists). His performance is serviceable, but he doesn't do nearly enough scenery-chewing. Tina Fey as Nadya- a Russian GULAG officer- never feels right in this role. I personally think that this has more to do with the script than her character, but either way, it reflects badly on the performance. Lastly, there's Ty Burrell, portraying a French Interpol inspector, who is the highlight of the humans (and possibly, of the film). He completely gets the Muppet tone, and provides the right amount of camp and comic ability.
The score, composed by Christophe Beck, is notable for actually including a main theme; something the other Muppet films rarely accomplish. Still, the theme is not developed in the slightest, resulting in a repetitive sounding score. There's an instrumental arrangement of "Together Again" early on that really surprised me, though it felt much less inspired after I realized that it was only there to tie in the number at the end (as opposed to being a spontaneous scoring idea).
As a whole, Muppets Most Wanted is an odd kind of beast. While there are definitely gags that bomb, and inconsistencies that will certainly bother some, there are enough smiles and chuckles to satisfy most audience members. Kids will probably find themselves a little bored, and fans of Henson's films, or the reboot, will be mildly disappointed. But the entertainment value is absolutely there. Die-Hards may just have to squint a bit to see it.
Note: The film is preceded by a short film entitled Party Central, starring characters from 2013's Monsters University. It's got a few decent gags (particularly near the end), but it's nothing special. Younger fans of Pixar's prequel will enjoy it the most, while anyone older will find it passable. On the whole, it's more than a bit depressing that this is the only new Pixar film that audiences will see for over a year.
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