As I explained in my review of the rebooted Muppets movie, my personal connection to the characters trumps my ability to analyze them properly. The Muppets Christmas Carol is one of the first films I can recall watching in theaters and I watched all of the Muppets films from the nineties with my Aunt. Those were special times for me and there is no way for me to not like seeing them again in any format.
So, after the successful first film of the new franchise (called just The Muppets), we now have Muppets Most Wanted. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good as the first go around. Strangely, the film attempts to shield itself from criticism by flat out stating in their opening number that “sequels aren’t as good.” The Muppets have always used that sort of lampshading to escape criticism and it shows a level of sophistication that other shows with children in the audience don’t have.
But it’s not a get out of jail free card, so I’ll go ahead and say it – the plot is confused and completely falls apart by the third act. The songs are largely unnecessary. The film is too long and Celine Dion is one of the celebrity cameos. The Muppets are better than this and have proven that many times.
It starts out with some very good ideas. The Muppets end their first film with the idea to bring their show on the road. Each is far too excited about their telethon and think that all of their ideas will work. This is encouraged by their new manager, Dominique Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who is on the payroll of international jewel thief and Kermit the Frog lookalike Constantine. Kermit tries to keep the show from falling apart, but after he’s kidnapped, shipped to a Russian gulag, and replaced by Constantine, everything turns into a disaster. The Muppets, caught by their own hubris, never realize that Kermit has been replaced by a terrible imposter or that their show has become terrible.
Not only does this plot address the fickleness of showbiz (which was what The Muppet Show was about) but also the changes that people have had to accept since Jim Henson’s death. It may have happened 24 years ago, but people still complain that Kermit’s voice doesn’t sound as it should. The scenes with Constantine watching old Muppet Show tapes and trying to imitate what he hears is a clever nod to that. Finally, the chaotic Muppet show that they perform gets progressively worse, but the Muppets are so high on success they don’t notice. The diminishing returns nearly killed them before. There was a time, after they were still successful despite Henson’s death, that the men behind the Muppets thought they could do anything. and by the end of the film, Muppets Most Wanted is focused more on the caper. This approach leads to many plot holes (how exactly does a 400 year old piece of jewelry disable a modern, computerized security system?) and repetition. The third act has Constantine (still impersonating Kermit) asking Miss Piggy to marry him. Piggy is obsessed with the idea of marrying Kermit – except that already happened in Muppets Take Manhattan is not referred to at all in this film.
This isn’t even getting into the songs, which are mostly weak (save the opening number and the interrogation song). I still listen to “Life’s a Happy Song” and it never fails to cheer me up. I can’t even remember any of the names of the songs from Most Wanted.
Together, these problems lead to the same sort of weaknesses that nearly killed the franchise in 1999. It’s all just so madcap and random without building to a proper climax. The film is weighed down by too many characters. Eighties Robot (a one joke character from the last film) shows up in the background but has no lines. Rizzo the Rat complains about how classic Muppets have been shafted by the new films. (That last line lead to applause in the audience.) So the filmmakers know where they need to improve – but they do nothing to improve. That’s laziness and no matter how much I love your characters, I am not going to forgive it.
There are some great laughs in the film. Seeing the Swedish Chef re-enact The Seventh Seal is nearly worth the price of the ticket. Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell are funny together as law enforcement officers from different sides of the pond, as are the Broadway singing gulag prisoners (lead by Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords and Ray Liotta) that Kermit attempts to train for a talent show. In fact, had they just stayed with the road show idea and the gang trying to figure out what they have to entertain people after Kermit disappears, it would have been a much better movie. Who needs the loathsome Constantine anyway to carry a movie when you have Kermit the Frog?
I don’t regret seeing Muppets Most Wanted. I think it’s just impossible for me to hate The Muppets. But it feels like the franchise falling into the same traps that nearly killed almost all interest in the characters for more than a decade. I was expecting more and I didn’t get it. What the Muppets need to do is step back and remember why people have been watching them for generations. It’s because their simplistic form of entertainment can be quite inspired and smart. Despite a great beginning and some fun ideas, Muppets Most Wanted is rarely as smart as its predecessor.
Oh, and next time guys? More Rizzo and Pepe. Less Celine Dion. In fact, let’s not speak of Celine Dion ever again.