The Muppets gave long-time friends a new reason to rejoice while introducing a new generation to the magic of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the gang. It was a box office smash and an Oscar winner that reinvigorated the Muppets brand. So expectations were high for its follow-up Muppets Most Wanted. But while the reviews were generally good, the consensus from critics was that this sequel felt not nearly as fun or impressive as the 2011 Muppets reboot.
Audiences appear to be underwhelmed as well, as Muppets Most Wanted made just $17 million opening weekend, or $12 million less than The Muppets. Even though Muppets Most Wanted was a little more than a mediocre movie, we're still hungry for more from the these beloved puppets. So, with that in mind, we're offering five guidelines Muppet moviemakers should follow moving forward.
Keep The Gang TogetherMistake: Muppets Most Wanted split up its heroes for three different plotlines, most painfully of all cutting Kermit off from his friends for most of the movie. This move made the story unexpectedly depressing. When Kermit is astonished no one noticed he was gone, Walter and Fozzie make a quick joke and we're meant to move on, but it was an ugly moment that reflected how screenwriters James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller misread the room here. The Muppets can and should bicker, but the conceit that they'd not notice an impostor in their midst was insulting and a bit grim.
Adjustment: The Muppets are at their best when they are working together toward a common goal, be it getting to Hollywood, saving the Baseball Diamond, hunting for treasure or trying to save their old theater. A plot where everyone is separated and pulling for himself or herself isn't just a buzz kill, it's contrary to their whole message of banding together to put on a show! I have no clue what the next movie will be about, but if its makers want it to be as fun and uplifting as the best of the Muppets' movies, they better keep this loud and zany ensemble together, then cause chaos from there.
Remember Who The Real Stars AreMistake: It rarely works when a Muppet movie focuses on the human lead. (The Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine is the lone exception.) Muppets Most Wanted fractured the focus of the story with three separate subplots, each with a human star (Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey) and two of the three focusing on lesser loved Muppets like newbies Walter and Constantine, and the hit-or-miss Sam Eagle. Overall, this Muppet movie felt very light on the group's most iconic characters, and it suffered for it.
Adjustment: Keep the focus on the Muppets we know and love! Walter's central role in The Muppets made sense as a way to re-introduce fans to the crew while winning over kids. But that doesn't mean new Muppets should be the future of the franchise, especially when they are as bland as Walter and Constantine. So for the next Muppet movie, let's see Miss Piggy giving attitude, tons of style and karate chops, not shunted to the side with a been-there-done-that wedding plotline. Give Kermit--the emotional center of the wild gang--the actual focus of the film, and never make Fozzie play second fiddle to any other Muppet but Kermit. Lastly, remember what a versatile player Gonzo is to the line-up. He can deliver poignant moments or absolutely bizarre slapstick. Don't waste him on throwaway gags. Use the tried and tested talents you've already got in this kooky cast!
Stop Rehashing Old Plot LinesMistake: As the eighth film in the franchise, Muppets Most Wanted had a lot of history to pull from, and they knew it. There are lines of dialogue and jokes in the movie about the plotlines they are repeating, like Kermit and Piggy's wedding, the European heist setup, and the Muppet ladder. But mentioning these retreads in the script doesn't make it winking or clever; it acknowledges the absence of fresh ideas here.
Adjustment: Meta humor is a key element of the Muppet cannon. But there's a difference between parodying the typical rags to riches Hollywood story and setting up your sequel with a song about how sequels are never quite as good. One shows a knowing sense of humor about Hollywood and its tropes. The other feels lazy and unsophisticated considering the Muppet's track record. The Muppets can be plugged into wacky adaptations or sent on wild adventures from cross-country quests to crime investigations and even space odysseys! They are limitless, and with an audience well aware of their range and past journeys. So carve out a new path, or else don't be shocked when audiences don't turn out.
Cameos Must Deliver, Not Just ExistMistake: Undeniably, part of the joy of Muppet movies is the celebrity spotting you can play with your friends. But the zing of celebrity cameos got lost in Muppets Most Wanted where every single speaking role by a human went to a star. Some of the cameos were clever, like Danny Trejo as a gulag prisoner or Celine Dion as Piggy's idol. But most of them just felt like color-by-numbers casting calls where any name could have been plugged in with equal effect. That's missing the point of what makes these so much fun!
Adjustment: It's not just about landing familiar faces for a few moments of Muppet madness, like Christoph Waltz waltzing. The Muppets have traditionally given stars a chance to poke fun at their own personas, and this is what makes a cameo in their movies really sing. A great Muppet movie cameo should play with our expectation of a performer while giving them a chance to shine - not just deliver a line then dart off camera. Consider Steve Martin as the surly sommelier of The Muppet Movie. He's Jerk-era Martin with a hilarious juxtaposition to Kermit and Piggy in attitude, altitude and brand of comedy. And it's glorious.
Songs Must Be A Mix Of Goofy And HeartfeltMistake: When secured Academy Award-winning songwriter of "Man or Muppet" Bret McKenzie, we rejoiced. But the songs for this sequel--including "We're Doing a Sequel"--didn't compare to the poignant punch that McKenzie shrewdly coated in silliness for "Man or Muppet." Part of this problem goes back to story, where the divided plot gave song numbers to several bad guys, featuring no core Muppets at all. Then the biggest emotional song is Piggy's "Something So Right," which seems like a transparent imitation of Little Shop of Horror's "Somewhere That's Green." Nothing here felt especially special.
Adjustment: Great songs are as crucial to this franchise as the corny callbacks of myth/miss confusion and "What color are their hands now?" Every Muppet movie (or TV episode) is a chance to explore and take new risks with the styles of songs these outrageous oddballs can pull off. They can do something silly and senseless like "Mahna Mahna," or something breathtakingly beautiful like "Rainbow Connection." Because they are Muppets, they can get away with a lot in both directions that might seem hokey or overly sentimental if humans alone were doing it.
The challenge of writing a song for the Muppets is not one I envy. But overall the soundtrack should offer numbers that are sidesplittingly funny, stunningly moving, and above all catchy. It's a tall order, but no one said a great Muppet movie is easy to make. After all, that was the whole plot of their first film!