Muppets Most Wanted (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG)

MuppetsMost 75The problem is, the Muppets aren’t that fun to hang around with this time.

 

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When The Muppets came out back in 2011, I was puzzled as to why I didn’t like it more. I love the Muppets; I’m a big fan of co-writer and star Jason Segel (not to mention co-stars Amy Adams and Chris Cooper); and I’m a fan of Flight of the Conchords, whose Bret McKenzie wrote The Muppets’ songs. While I didn’t hate the film, I was pretty thoroughly underwhelmed by it. And now we have its sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, which again has McKenzie doing the music (remember he won an Oscar last time for The Muppets’ highlight, “Man or Muppet?”) and again stars people I like (Golden Globes hosts Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey this time), and it is, of course, still about the Muppets, to whom I haven’t grown any less fond. And yet once again, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the film. How does this keep on happening?

That isn’t to say it doesn’t start off well. The opening number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” is arguably the best song of the movie, and sets the tone well. The plot is just formulaic enough to be comforting: Hot off the success of the last movie, the Muppets are going on a world tour, but they inadvertently hire an evil tour manager, Dominic Badguy (played by Gervais and pronounced “Bad-Ghee,” as if it were French), who is in cahoots with the most-wanted criminal in the world, Constantine (voiced by Matt Vogel), who looks an awful lot like Kermit (voiced by Steve Whitmire). Of course, you can see where this is all going, but that’s beside the point. Seeing a Muppets movie is fun because the Muppets are fun, and not because the plots are new and interesting.

The problem is, the Muppets aren’t that fun to hang around with this time. Sure, there are laughs to be had. I never tire of the Swedish Chef or Animal. There are some funny references to everything from The Seventh Seal to Duck Soup. Some of the celebrity cameos are amusing. Still, a few too many of the jokes fall flat, most of the songs are not particularly memorable, and the film spends too much time on Kermit/Constantine/Miss Piggy, who, let’s face it, are about the least funny Muppet characters. Where’s Fozzie? Where’s Gonzo? How come Walter, who was introduced in the last movie, gets a more integral role than these guys?

One of the more curious things about the two newest Muppet movies is that they’re both directed by James Bobin, a usual director of episodes of Flight of the Conchords, which was miraculously good at making you excited about the next song. Muppets Most Wanted, despite reteaming Bobin, McKenzie, and even Jemaine Clement (who turns up as an inmate in a Siberian prison—presided over by Tina Fey’s character, Nadya—where Kermit goes), mostly just makes you dread the next song, because most of them aren’t very good. (One of them even features Celine Dion, during which a child cried during the press screening…or maybe that was me.) If the new Muppets movies keep up at this pace, it won’t be too long before I start dreading the next one, and that would be a real shame. | Pete Timmermann

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