Muppet mania continues in Muppets Most Wanted

by Mark Burger

Although not the blazing entertainment that was The Muppets in 2011, Muppets Most Wanted is still a treat for Muppet mavens of all ages. Even as they approach middle age, Jim Henson’s distinctive characters remain irresistible and eager to please – and please they do.

The new film picks up immediately where The Muppets left off, with the entire gang reunited. At the urging of slick promoter Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), they impetuously embark on a worldwide tour. Dominic’s surname proves correct, however, for he’s actually in cahoots with Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” who bears an amazing resemblance to Kermit the Frog.

Having escaped a Russian gulag, Constantine quickly switches places with Kermit in Berlin. While the Muppets try to figure out why “Kermit” suddenly speaks with an accent, the real Kermit winds up in the gulag, where Tina Fey plays the warden.

A series of daring museum robberies throughout Europe spurs Interpol inspector Ty Burrell into pursuit, teamed with none other than Sam Eagle (representing the CIA!). Although Animal realizes that “Kermit” isn’t his old self (“Bad frog!” he shouts, to no avail), the other Muppets are a little slow on the uptake – even Miss Piggy, who’s determined to marry Kermit at the first available opportunity.

All globetrotting aside, Muppets Most Wanted works best when it focuses on the title characters. This is the seventh of the bigscreen Muppet movies, and aside from 1998’ inexplicably lackluster Muppets from Space, they’ve all been good. This film occasionally recalls the second film, The Great Muppet Caper (1981), but has enough distinctive touches to work on its own, including some amusing and energetic musical numbers – the first of which, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” is perhaps more accurate than originally intended, noting how sequels often don’t measure up to the original.

Nevertheless, any Muppet movie that includes an Ingmar Bergman reference in the opening minutes and even manages to make “The Macarena” entertaining –which would have seemed an impossibility – surely has much going for it.

As for the human co-stars, Gervais’ animated personality makes him a good fit (and foil) for the Muppets, and Fey is great fun as the not-so-wicked warden. Her Russian accent is spot-on, and she also proves quite capable with song and dance. Burrell’s fussy French inspector cannot help but invite comparison to Inspector Clouseau, but pairing him with Sam Eagle is an inspired notion.

Among the many celebrities who drop in for cameos are Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo as dancing prisoners (!), Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, Tom Hiddleston, Celine Dion, Salma Hayek, Frank Langella, Zach Galifianakis, Usher Raymond, Stanley Tucci, Josh Groban, and Christoph Waltz – who actually dances a waltz.

Everyone looks like they’re having fun and everyone’s in high spirits. The Muppet magic rolls on …