Few movies have such an innate goodness to them that the sheer love put into them emits a constant joy that lifts it above any flaws one might catch. For me, The Muppets (and The Muppet Movie) fits that description almost as well as something like Jacques Demy’sThe Young Girls of Rochefort does. Both are feel-good musicals that take place in a world where even bad news can be twisted to a delightful mood. Now, following a film as full of love as The Muppets is a tough task, one that James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller took on without co-writer Jason Segel. Without his presence, it seems like the love for the gang is lost, with focus turning from being “Together Again” to making a bigger, but not better, movie.
Muppets Most Wanted lightheartedly claims, “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” They’re right. Its plot is plain and simply a lazy one, with Kermit deciding to allow a fellow named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to take the gang on a world tour in order to help his partner in crime, Constantine, escape. The transparency that comes with this plot isn’t the issue, but rather the fact that a plot like this drags the film into an awkward Bond tribute of sorts – complete with seductions, bombs, and chase scenes. And what does that spy flick plot result in? A film that doesn’t care about its characters as much as it cares about its guest stars.
To pack a Muppets film with big stars takes no work at all, as every one of them to date has done the same. Utilizing them tactfully is a different story. While Tina Fey’s presence provides a fun-enough song and some interesting moments with Kermit, Ty Burrell would have been better off in another Pink Pantherremake that no one wanted to watch. As for Gervais, well, I’d rather pretend his presence was nonexistent for the most part. Thankfully, one human on board is still doing a damn fine job, and his name is Bret McKenzie
Still on music duty, there’s no shortage of tunes that McKenzie provides to throw a smile on your face. Maybe not the same quality as something like “Life’s a Happy Song,” but there’s a lot of charm to be found in the self-awareness of “We’re Doing a Sequel” and Miss Piggy’s heartfelt sort-of-ballad “Something So Right.” Even something like Constantine’s tune, “I’ll Give You What You Want,” proves to be a sheer treat, and the song most easily compared to his work from good ol’ Flight of the Conchords. There’s only one bomb in the soundtrack and that number is Constantine and Ricky Gervais’ duet “I’m Number One.” It’s embarrassingly written and staged, especially when compared to the Saturday Night Fever– and Busby Berkeley-inspired presentations of other songs present in the film.
That number also features one of the biggest issues with Muppets Most Wanted: the abundance of special effects. Nobody wants to see these guys swinging their legs and throwing karate chops through low-budget computer animation. Part of the charm of the Muppets, at least to me, is knowing how much a filmmaker and his team do to present them as real beings without losing an ounce of that puppetry. There’s no art or grace to settling for bad special effects just to amp up the action, especially when the same over-the-top result could be achieved without it. Don’t give me weird hyper-speed tap-dancing on Ricky Gervais’ head. Give me Miss Piggy and a bunch of flamingos singing the “Macarena.” Give me the gang enjoying themselves after all the time they took to get back together in The Muppets.
Admittedly, a lot of love for The Muppets is fueled by its nostalgic flavor; never ceasing to offer tribute to the good old days of singing “Rainbow Connection” arm in arm, but that doesn’t diminish its power. By leaving that sense of familiarity behind, Muppets Most Wanted proves to be a perfect title for the film; always leaving you wanting for more of the gang and less of everything else that comes with it. It’s not bad, and it’s definitely not great, but it’s always nice to have the company of a Muppet or twenty.
Directed by James Bobin; written by James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller; starring the Muppets, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey; 113 minutes.