Starring: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Almost Everyone Else In Hollywood.
In 2011, Jim Henson’s most famous creations returned to the big screen after a hiatus which felt like it lasted eons. To be fair, some of the later Muppet movies had not been particularly stellar, and so their absence was understandable. Oh, there were Muppet films running all the way up to 2005, sure, but they never got the big screen treatment, and were more a cash in on the name and cameos. Had the world outgrown the crazy antics of these furry critters, or more worryingly, had the creative talent lost sight of how to make a successful film?
Enter the creative team behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall, driven by the passion of self-confessed Muppet-o-phile Jason Segel, and the franchise had its first big hit since Christmas Carol in 1992. Naturally, Disney wanted to capitalise on this renewed popularity, which combined the nostalgia of 30-somethings like myself, with the awe of a new younger audience, and came up with Muppets Most Wanted.
The sequel picks up exactly where the first film left off, with the group back together, celebrating their return to notoriety. After the opening number, which breaks the fourth wall perfectly, the movie benefits from not needing to set up the characters, and we swiftly move straight onto the main plot. The group hire a new manager, who wants to take them on a world tour to celebrate their popularity. Unbeknownst to The Muppets, their new manager is working with a world-renowned criminal frog, Constantine (a dead ringer for Kermit), who has broken out of a Siberian prison, intent on stealing The Crown Jewels, framing Kermit et al for his crimes in the process.
There is a shake up this time among the human cast, with Segel and Amy Adams out, replaced with Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey. Although Segel and Adams did an ok job in the first film, I always felt they were the weakest link (as they should be, it’s not called The Segels And Adams’, after all) and bringing in fresh faces was the right thing to do in my opinion.
All three newcomers are pretty good at selling their puppet co-stars. I am a big fan of Gervais, and although America seems to also have a little thing for him, he never seemed quite able to crack Hollywood. I would argue this is perhaps his best US movie to date, as he keeps true to his own comedy stylings, managing to soften his rough edges sufficiently for a family movie, without losing his comedy timing.
I am not overly familiar with Burrell and Fey’s work (although obviously I am aware of their resumes), however they are both great in their respective roles. Burrell is paired with Sam The Eagle, as they respectively play agents of Interpol and the CIA. Their relationship, which completely follows the tried and tested buddy cop formula, was surprisingly one of the highlights for me. Burrell’s French agent is so perfectly built on European stereotypes that it verges on a hilarious racism, and the dialogue between man and puppet just zinged with each line.
Fey is arguably the least interesting of the three, although this more to do with her character than her performance. Her Siberian prison guard, who is also a secret Kermit fangirl, doesn’t get as many laughs as the other two, and almost verged on being “the straight man”, however she is saved by having probably the best line of the film (I swear the audience nearly exploded in laughter), so subtlety delivered it might pass some by.
Although Kermit has been, and always will be, the face of this motley crew, everyone has their favourite Muppet, and I am happy to say that all of you will be pleased with this film in terms of screen time. Usually the stories will concentrate on one or two of the group, but I was pleasantly surprised that Muppets Most Wanted seems to share the time around. There is even a few gentle nods to the crowd regarding old favourites that have taken a bit of a back seat.
One area that The Muppets films have always excelled in is their cameos, and they are still as good as ever, whether it is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Lady Gagas, or the more elaborate Tom Hiddlestons, every celebrity has a part to play, and even Ray Liotta can’t stink this one up!
What Muppettastic review would be complete without talking about the songs. I have already mentioned the opening song “They’ve Ordered A Sequel”, and if that doesn’t get you in the mood (and stay in your head for days to come), then “I’m Number One”, “I’ll Get You What You Want” and “The Interrogation Song” probably will do. Quite honestly, it is one of the strongest soundtracks to a Muppet film since the very first motion picture in 1979.
Muppets Most Wanted is a fantastic film to kick off the summer, and for this humble guy, actually improves on its predecessor. It has a great sense of humour, with a perfect mixture of original gags and self referential jokes, catering to both a young and an adult audience. I don’t honestly remember having more fun in a screening over the last couple of years. Hopefully the poor opening weekend numbers in the US can be turned around, and a strong overseas push will see a third film head our way!