I really wanted to like the “Muppets Most Wanted” — the direct sequel to the 2011 “The Muppets” revival. But the most entertaining part of the most recent Muppets movie — the 7th sequel to the original 1979 motion picture (adds Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) — was its self-aware opening song.
“And everyone knows the sequels never quite as good,” sings the cast, consisting of the familiar faces of Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmore), Fozzie the Bear (Eric Jacobson), Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz) and more.
The plot may be overdone, but its decent enough. It follows Kermit and friends on their world tour. Ricky Gervais plays Dominic Badguy — a scheming producer and accomplice to evil frog Constantine (“Sesame Street” voice actor Matt Vogel). Dominic and Constantine use the touring muppet show as their alibi to their thefts across Europe. It helps that Kermit looks exactly like Constantine, so Constantine switches places with Kermit — becoming head of the muppets while Kermit gets mistakenly locked up in the Siberian equivalent of Sing Sing with warden Nadya (Tina Fey).
Like director James Bobin’s “The Muppets” (2011), “Muppets Most Wanted” pays homage to the original Jim Henson films (in some scenes we see Constantine watching the old Jim Henson clips while he tries to learn and replicate Kermit’s vocal patterns). The new film even follows the familiar formula of “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984): an obvious diabolical villain character, Kermit’s distance and reunion with his friends, the frog and pig wedding, the cameo appearances from celebrities (this time including Lady Gaga, Tom Hiddleston and Usher). The plot of the 1984 film even gets mentioned in “Muppets Most Wanted.”
“It’s about getting The Muppets back together again to stop an evil oil baron from demolishing the old studio,” says Fozzie Bear.
Still, “Muppets Most Wanted” feels like its trying too hard. It feels as phony as Tina Fey’s stereotypical Russian accent (though, at least the Russian accents give voice actors a forgivable excuse for sounding a tad off). The gags are repeated, but they’re nowhere near as avant-garde as what Henson created in the late ’70s to ’80s films.
But even if this muppet movie — written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller — feels forced, the muppets are a relatively lucrative business for Disney (who bought the franchise in 2004). And we can be sure this won’t be their last act.
“Muppets Most Wanted” was directed by James Bobin and written by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller.