Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Ricky Gervais
Directed by: James Bobin (“The Muppets”)
Written by: James Bobin (debut) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”)
After years of languishing in ho-hum theatrical features and increasingly boring TV movies, Disney finally put the full heft of their family-friendly marketing machine behind Kermit the Frog, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang with 2011’s “The Muppets,” a delightfully nostalgic yet wonderfully fresh take on the late Jim Henson’s greatest creation. Bolstered by the presence of avowed Muppet fan Jason Segal in front of the camera and behind the scenes (he co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller), “The Muppets” managed to win the hearts of jaded old Muppet fans burned by years of mediocre offerings like myself while also successfully introducing the characters to a new batch of young fans—not to mention bringing the market for Muppet merchandise back from the dead.
Because no hit movies in Hollywood are left without one, 2014 brings us a sequel: “Muppets Most Wanted.” Kicking off literally seconds after “The Muppets” wrapped up on Hollywood Boulevard (with stand-ins playing the backs of the sorely-missed Segal and Amy Adams), “Muppets Most Wanted” sends the Muppets packing on a European tour at the urging of shady tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais…and it’s pronounced “bad-jee”) that finds them playing some of the swankiest theaters on the continent. Meanwhile Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog—and dead ringer for Kermit, save the presence of a mole—has made a daring escape from a Russian gulag. If you haven’t guessed by now, Dominic and Constantine are working together, using the Muppets’ tour stops as decoys to break into vaults all across Europe. The duo quickly dispatch Kermit to the Russian gulag overseen by closet Kermit the Frog fan Nadya (Tina Fey) while Constantine poses poorly as Kermit, even though none of the other Muppets are any the wiser. With a bumbling INTERPOL agent (Ty Burrell) and a no-nonsense CIA agent (Sam the Eagle) on their trail, Dominic and Constantine plot to steal their biggest prize of all: the British Crown Jewels.
While the laughs are there and the songs, again by Oscar-winner Bret Mackenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame), are solid, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels much less satisfying than the last effort. The cast, though all seasoned comedy vets, feels more like the cast of a TV movie, as if the three human leads weren’t the first or even second choices for the roles. Again, Segal’s goofy man-child sincerity for the material is missed, leaving the movie with a going-through-the-motions feel which, to be fair, it half-heartedly acknowledges in the big wink of a song “We’re Doing A Sequel” that kicks the movie off. Throw in the fact that it looks like Disney cheaped out, with terrible special effects marring the climax and the final sequence of the film, and “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like an unfortunate letdown.