By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — However wanted they are, the movies with the Muppets aren’t just for moppets.
The Muppet movies have maintained an admirable level of quality, ranging from stimulatingly delightful (1979’s The Muppet Movie, 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol, and 2011’s The Muppets) to serviceably watchable (1996’s Muppet Treasure Island, 1999’s Muppets from Space).
This eighth big-screen Muppet adventure, Muppets Most Wanted, matches the sparkle and warmth of its immediate predecessor, The Muppets, the heart-on-its-sleeve followup that served to reintroduce and reinvigorate the brand name for movie audiences.
It is, like its seven predecessors, eager to please. And, like its seven predecessors, it is indeed pleasing, putting a wide smile on your face and leaving it there, with enough giggly gags and bantering bits to keep family audiences happily satisfied.
This sequel is a joyful musical comedy as well as a tongue-in-cheek crime caper in the Muppetaneous tradition most vividly established by The Great Muppet Caper, one that picks up on Hollywood Boulevard, hard on the heels of the Muppets’ reunion in their last outing.
Following their triumphant public performance, the entire felt-covered Muppets company is on a global tour that takes the furry performers throughout Europe, including impressive theatrical venues in London, Madrid, Berlin, and Dublin.
But the Muppet performers -– Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Rowlf the Dog, Animal, and the others — find themselves on the wrong side of the law when they become involved with Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” who just happens to be a dead ringer for one Kermit the Frog: only a curious mole separates Kermit from his green doppelgänger, who steps in and impersonates Kermit when the latter finds himself imprisoned in a Russian gulag.
And what Constantine has been doing, using the Muppet musical gigs as his cover, is to pull off a series of heists on his way to a planned swiping of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
Ricky Gervais is Dominic Badguy, Constantin’s sidekick, who signs up the Muppets for a shady world tour, poses as their international tour manager, and pronounces his last name “ Bad-jee.”
Tina Fey is Nadya, a Russian commandant and, secretly, Kermit’s biggest fan.
And Ty Burrell plays French Interpol inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon, who teams up with investigative partner Sam the Eagle and reminds us of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” movies.
Celebrity cameos arrive by the truckload, including Ray Liotta, Usher, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Frank Langella, Stanley Tucci, Danny Trejo, and Christoph Waltz, just to name a few.
With all the game live performers on hand, director James Bobin (The Muppets), who co-wrote the script with Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote The Muppets with the film’s star, Jason Segel), gets both humor and poignancy out of the celebrity human/major Muppet interaction, just as the early Muppet flicks did. And it registers for grownups as well as children.
The level of creative energy that we got used to in the early Muppet movies still impresses, and the heart and soul of the movie is most obvious in the delightful songs by Christophe Beck and Bret McKenzie -– including “We’re Doing a Sequel,” “I’m Number One,” and “I’ll Get You What You Want” –- which have the requisite bounce and snap and hummability and narrative thrust.
Muppets Most Wanted may not be as nostalgic or emotional as its predecessor -– although it’s close –- but it’s another tasty and spirited stew of wordplay, slapstick, vaudeville, satire, and absurdism.
So we’ll give a big hand to 3 stars out of 4 for the lively and enjoyable Muppets Most Wanted, a sequel that equals and entertains and makes us look forward to yet another helping of Mummetry.