March 22, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Muppets Most Wanted

COMEDY/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2014

U.S. Release Date:

2014-03-21

Running Length:

1:45

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and the voices of Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobzon, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel

Director:

James Bobin

Screenplay:

James Bobin & Nicholas Stoller

Cinematography:

Don Burgess

Music:

Christophe Beck

U.S. Distributor:

Walt Disney Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Since The Muppets first arrived in our homes during the mid-1970s with their iconic TV series, they've never gone away for more than a few years at a time. There have been some lean periods - the '00s come to mind - but, despite deaths in the family and the passing of torches, Kermit, Piggy, Fozzy, and the rest have soldiered on. The 2011 incarnation, simply called The Muppets, re-invigorated a franchise desperately in need of a new injection of energy. Suddenly, The Muppets were again relevant, like an old toy dusted off and cleaned up into perfect working order. The inevitable sequel, arriving three years later, isn't as giddily entertaining as its predecessor but much of the charm remains, making this an ideal destination for a family excursion.

Muppets Most Wanted has all the elements that make The Muppets popular with children: puppets, songs, kid-friendly humor, and a fast-paced story that doesn't try to do too much. It also has all the elements that make The Muppets popular with adults: puppets, songs, kid-friendly humor, and an overabundance of nostalgia. Hey, for those of us who grew up in the '70s, Kermit and Miss Piggy have been dancing around each other for most of our lives. They even came on the scene before Star Wars.

Muppets Most Wanted riffs on spy movies, prison escape movies, and The Pink Panther (without the big cat or the memorable Henry Mancini score). It starts off where The Muppets ended with a musical number about making a sequel then segues into the main story which features the troupe preparing for a world tour managed by the smarmy Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Meanwhile, in Siberia, master criminal Constantine the frog has escaped from a maximum security Gulag. He kidnaps and replaces Kermit, reunites with Dominic (his #2), and sets into motion a convoluted plan to steal England's Crown Jewels.

Muppets Most Wanted features only three primary human actors. Ricky Gervais is the henchman, Tina Fey is the woman who runs the Gulag, and Ty Burell is Jean Pierre Napoleon, a French Interpol agent whose instructor was quite possibly Inspector Clouseau (the Peter Sellers version, not the Steve Martin one). As is typical for a Muppet movie, there are a host of cameos, with close to two dozen "surprise" appearances from familiar faces like Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Danny Trejo, Chloe Grace Moretz, Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Tom Hiddleston, and Frank Langella. At times, watching Muppets Most Wanted becomes a "spot the star" game which is okay because the storyline doesn't require a lot of concentration.

The Muppet performers are in fine form. Most of them are veterans. Dave Goelz, who voices The Great Gonzo (amongst others) is one of the Muppet originals - he has played the character since its birth. Steve Whitmire, who took over for Jim Henson after the latter's death, has been doing Kermit for more than two decades. Eric Jacobson's Miss Piggy doesn't sound significantly different from Frank Oz's. The Muppets don't age and the behind-the-scenes team has ensured that the continuity of how they sound matches the unchanging nature of their appearance.

Muppets Most Wanted is no The Lego Movie when it comes to innovative family entertainment. It's a more generic effort but there's nothing in this movie that will hurt The Muppets brand. The weakest element is the unremarkable story but that's also the least important aspect. We're not here to watch a great narrative unfold. We're here to spend a couple of hours with old friends doing new versions of the things we love best about them. We're here to laugh at the corny jokes and roll our eyeballs at the overproduced musical numbers. Muppets Most Wanted delivers these core elements and gives us reasons to leave the theater smiling.

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