Review: Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

(Warning: contains spoilers.  But then again, nobody really watches Muppet movies for their intricate plots.)

You have to love a movie that has the cheek (with tongue firmly in it) to open with a musical number called “We’re Doing a Sequel,” with lyrics declaring that sequels are “never as good.”

I won’t say it’s not as good as 2011’s simply titled The Muppets.  But I will say I enjoyed the first one more.  To be fair, they are quite different movies.  Muppets Most Wanted is an international jewel heist caper stuffed full of all the Muppet zaniness you could want.  What it gains in European locales and action-adventure, however, it loses in heart (some, no doubt, would say schmaltz).

MMW picks up where its predecessor left off — literally.  After their grand reunion before adoring crowds, Kermit and the gang are left wondering, “What’s next?”  Kermit’s modest plans are derailed by the arrival of one Dominic Badguy (no, no, it’s pronounced, “BAHD-jee” — it’s French, you see), who wants to be their new manager and take them on a world tour.

This is, of course, just a cover for a villainous plot.  Constantine, international jewel thief and the world’s most dangerous (and self-absorbed) frog, has just escaped from a Siberian gulag.  As coincidence would have it, he just happens to look exactly like Kermit, except for a mole on his right cheek (hey, don’t laugh — the early days of Mission: Impossible were filled with convenient coincidences just like that, right?).  The dastardly plan: kidnap Kermit, glue a mole on his cheek, and ship him off to the gulag; plant Constantine among the unsuspecting Muppets; have Badguy (Ricky Gervais) arrange for the Muppets to play Europe in strategic locations that will help the villains score the Crown Jewels; frame the Muppets for the deed.

The poor Muppets, of course, haven’t a clue.  Never mind that “Kermit” isn’t acting at all like himself, including seeming eager to marry Miss Piggy.  Never mind that he speaks in mangled and heavily accented English.  They’re blinded by the promise of travel and fame — and the permission to do whatever they want in the show.   Only Animal knows that Kermit is a fake (“Bad frog!  Bad frog!”), though Walter (introduced in the last movie) slowly begins to suspect.  But no one will listen.  Can they find the real Kermit and save the day?

The Muppets play alongside three actual humans.  Gervais makes a slimy enough, smooth-talking Badguy (okay, “bad guy” this time), but doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself as much as his co-stars: Ty Burrell, gleefully channeling Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau as a French Interpol agent; Tina Fey as the Russian guard who falls in love with the real Kermit (there is a bit of unnecessary ick factor here) and puts him in charge of the prison’s musical revue.  Celebrity cameos abound, turning the film into a bit of a Where’s Waldo? game for all generations.  Some of the appearances are so brief, they’ll be gone before you figure out who it is (indeed, until the final scene, Josh Groban has to be identified by his voice alone).  And fair warning: you may want earplugs for Miss Piggy’s music video duet with Celine Dion.

The moral of the story is served up rather obviously by the script.  Kermit feels abandoned in the gulag: why haven’t his friends rescued him?  Finding out he had been replaced doesn’t soothe him: why didn’t they notice?  The answer, of course, is that they were too busy thinking about themselves, about what they wanted.  Even Piggy, who wants to marry her beloved Kermie so badly that she refuses to wait for a proposal, stands on the brink of marrying an impostor who wants to turn her into bacon.

It’s a Disney movie, so there will be a heroic and happy ending.  The Muppets are not just friends, after all, they’re family.  And hopefully, families will come away from the movie being reminded in some small way of how selfishness can blind us to what really matters.