The 400-Word Review: Muppets Most Wanted
By Sean Collier
March 24, 2014
Bad news, I’m afraid: the world has finally caught up to the Muppets.
That’s not a description of the plot of Muppets Most Wanted, the earnest and well-intentioned latest entry in the big-screen Muppet canon. Rather, it’s the new reality of the family-film landscape. At the time of the Muppets’ greatest relevance and effect, they were an extreme outlier: entertainment aimed at kids that contained separate, layered jokes for their parents. A-list (or at least cult) celebrity cameos, pop-culture references and meta-commentary — these were unheard of in all-ages entertainment when The Muppet Movie premiered in 1979.
Those same elements, however, are found in nearly every children’s film today. The tricks up the sleeves of Kermit and Fozzy were in every Shrek, they were just in Despicable Me 2 and they define the significantly-superior Lego Movie.
Here, in a chronologically immediate sequel to 2011’s The Muppets, evil frog and Kermit lookalike Constantine (voice of Matt Vogel) teams with put-upon sidekick Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to rob the treasures of Europe under the guise of a Muppets world tour. They get Kermit (voice of Steve Whitmire) thrown in a Soviet gulag overseen by Kermit-obsessed Nadya (Tina Fey) and wreak mayhem while the Clouseau-esque Jean (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle (voice of Eric Jacobson) try to crack the case.
It’s a fast-moving and undeniably, well, Muppet-ish plotline. But therein lies the other dilemma: almost all children’s fare of late has a serious emotional core and active commentary to drive the action. This isn’t just true of Frozen and Toy Story — even the likes of The Croods or How to Train Your Dragon pack an emotional wallop. That leaves a light diversion like Muppets Most Wanted feeling thin.
Many of the jokes do land, although an over-reliance on those fleeting celeb appearances wears thin and adds little. (There are so many that the credits must be consulted simply to verify the presence of some stars; to name three, Tom Hiddleston, Saoirse Ronan and Chloe Grace Moretz are in-and-out so quickly that one wonders why they flew in.) And the music, by “Flight of the Conchords” star Jemaine Clement, is as good as expected.
Whether by comparison or effort, though, Muppets Most Wanted feels half-formed; for fans with longstanding relationships with Henson’s crew, that’s a disappointment. The Muppets are still the Muppets — funny, pleasant and delightful. But so is everyone else.
My Rating: 6/10
Aggregate Rating from CriticsChoice.com: 83/100
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark