Back in 2011, the fuzzy Jim Henson creations known as The Muppets were reintroduced to the big screen in spectacular fashion, and as a result, expectations for the sequel are through the roof. Of course, it takes less than three minutes into the new movie for the titular characters to acknowledge the immense challenges facing the production, singing in the opening number:
“We’re doing a sequel, that’s what we do in Hollywood/And everybody knows the sequel’s never quite as good.”
While this classic industry trope hasn’t always turned out to be true, in the case of Muppets Most Wanted the lyric turns out to be pretty fitting. The film ultimately doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but, all the same, is still an immensely funny, witty caper that both adult and young audiences will enjoy in equal measure.
The sequel goes in with a significant handicap in comparison to the last one, as the new premise isn’t quite as clever or meta as its predecessor, but it’s an adventure that certainly fits right into the Muppets wheelhouse. The first direct sequel in the franchise’s history – co-written by director James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller – the new movie picks up moments after the end of The Muppets, and finds the troupe looking for a way to capitalize on their rediscovered popularity. Teaming up with a shady tour manager named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), they come to the conclusion that the best course of action is to go take the show on the road to some of Europe’s most famous destinations. What the Muppets don’t know, however, is that Dominic is actually a henchman for Constantine, an internationally notorious thief who also happens to be Kermit The Frog’s doppelganger (minus a mole on the villain’s face). Together the two bandits work to pull off a scheme by having Kermit sent to the Russian gulag while the touring Muppet show is used as a cover to pull off some of the most daring heists the world has ever seen.
The best Muppet projects are the ones that take full advantage of the fact that the Muppet world is filled with all kinds of strange and diverse characters. The new sequel succeeds in this regard not only by spreading lines around, but also creating some great human-Muppet pairings that do their part to accentuate the unique personalities. Gervais creates a great duo with Constantine, as the two have a great tête-à-tête together that has the criminal frog beating down the self-esteem of his Number Two (even in song form). Likewise, Tina Fey – who plays Nadya, a strict gulag warden with a taste for musical theater – gets to spend most of the movie with Kermit, and the two of them have some great scenes together, either debating Kermit’s real identity or working together to put on a prisoner-led revue.
The movie’s most inspired bit, however, is the investigative team of Sam The Eagle – the ultra-patriotic, conservative Muppet – and Jean Pierre Napoleon, an impossibly French Interpol agent played by Ty Burrell. While you would think the extreme stereotype gag would be tired, the film really pulls it off, and the two wind up sharing one of the best songs in the movie.
Of course, putting new characters in the spotlight means that some of the most beloved Muppets don’t get as big a part in the story (I was disappointed to see a diminished amount of Gonzo in the plot), but not only is the choice understandable, it is even turned into one of the best jokes in the film.
As I’ve been alluding to a lot through my review so far, music is a big factor in Muppets Most Wanted, heavily influenced by the Academy Award-winning success of the last movie. Bret McKenzie is back as the music supervisor, and while his contributions aren’t quite as strong as his those from The Muppets, the sequel is still packed with catchy, clever tracks that you’ll be humming on the way home from the theater. The whole thing gets off to a rollicking start with the aforementioned opening number (which I will admit is the film’s best song), but you’ll both laugh and tap your foot as Constantine seduces Miss Piggy with the disco-esque “I’ll Get You What You Want,” and Jean-Pierre Napoleon and Sam The Eagle interview all of the Muppets in the quickly-paced “Interrogation Song.” The soundtrack may not result in another Oscar win next year, but there is a great chance you’ll still be listening to the songs when nominations are announced.
After nearly half a century with the characters, audiences have come to expect certain things from Muppets projects, from amazing celebrity cameos to meta references to all kinds of ridiculous chaos, and in that respect Muppets Most Wanted is certainly a success. The filmmakers set their own extremely high bar with a brilliant comeback film, and while the follow-up doesn’t quite reach that bar, it’s still a wonderful and hilarious effort.