09 April 2014
Classic Muppet movies (not the utterly-charming, but still very-different Jason Segel effort) were noteworthy in their fourth-wall breaking absurdity. The muppets were goofy, wry, and wholeheartedly dedicated to good naturedly skewering the pop culture world around them.
The newest Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, feels like those old Muppet capers. Gone is the adorable Jason Segel romance and the delightfully light songs, and in its place is a classic muppet madcap euphoria. Screenwriter Nichlas Stoler and Director James Bobin completely get how a Muppet movie should crumble: winking celebrity cameos, goofy songs, and enough zaniness to fill a cartoon clown car.
The one place the new feature really stumbles is in giving me a reason to care about its installment. It’s here, more than anywhere, that the loss of Jason Segel is most important. People can complain about the new Muppets not feeling the same as the old ones, but by instilling the human characters (and a new muppet character) with a full blown character arch, The Muppets gave me a reason to watch it multiple times, rather than pull out my old Muppet Show DVDs. The new installment, although deeply funny and enjoyable, didn’t.
That’s probably enough whining to do about a movie that made me giggle at an inaudible octave. Let’s talk about what I loved. The plot, a thinly laced movie parody involving a villainous Kermit doppleganger and Ricky Gervais playing Dominic Badguy (it’s pronounced Bad-gee), involves Kermit getting kidnapped and thrown in a Russian gulag, Sam The Eagle facing off against Ty Burrell as a French Interpol agent*, Tina Fey lovelornly pining after Kermit, and Walter teaming up with Fozzy Wig and Gonzo to overthrow the imposter. That’s a lot of plot (and I kind of skimmed over the Miss Piggy stuff) and a lot of opportunity for inspired randomness.
The celebrity cameos, although at this point expected, are also delightful in just how weird they are (who picks Frank Langella for a celebrity cameo?). Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais really sink their teeth into their roles, especially Fey who seems to enjoy playing so far against type.
Constantine, the Muppets Kermit-look-alike, is a welcome, charismatic antagonist. It’s unfortunate that the movie felt the need to saddle him with cheesy parkour-influenced CGI moves that recall nothing quite-so-much as that inexplicable moment in the prequels when Yoda starts flying through the sky like a little CGI pinball. None the less, his strange chemistry with Ricky Gervais helps carry the movie’s plot (and I’ll never get tired of him calling Gervais, “Okay, number 2.”)
All in all, Muppets Most Wanted is a solid Muppet film, full of the characteristic laugh and charm of their best endeavours.
*In one of the movie’s most brilliant, and unexpected, gags, they get a lot of mileage out of the idea that the French workday is laughably short. Does not sound like the stuff of comedy all stars, but it’s exactly the kind of intelligent randomness that the Muppets at their greatest are capable of conjuring.
** Why ISNT there more Rizzo the Rat in the reboot?
*** Statler and Waldorf are actually the two characters I think least-well-served by Nicholas Stoller’s voice
**** The songs this go-round are okay, but there’s no “Man or a Muppet” to carry us home.