A Naive European Tour
It would appear as though diplomacy is not exactly the first thing on the mind of Muppets Most Wanted. James Bobin’s sequel is driven by a Russian mastermind criminal, and one of its primary locations is a Siberian gulag. It’s not the cultural landscape you might typically find in a muppets movie, nor one you’d expect to find during the current time of geopolitical chess playing. Maybe Bobbin believes Vladimir Putin just doesn’t know about Kermit and the gang.
This sequel to the 2011 reboot starring Amy Adams and Jason Segel begins directly where that movie ends, with a tongue-in-cheek musical number about how sequels are never as good as their predecessors. That type of self-aware humor continues throughout the rest of Most Wanted, though it somewhat fulfills its overture’s promise. After all, even with some lighthearted sight gags, this is a more adult-driven comedic effort. Does a ten-year-old really understand the jokes about our contentious relationship with Russia and Europeans?
I suppose they don’t, and it’s not technically necessary in order to enjoy this movie. The muppets are good for that. They’re naïve and innocent. They see what they want to see and they become lamentable fuzzy characters for it. This is pretty clear when a promotional agent (Ricky Gervais) wants to take the muppets on a world tour. His last name is “Badguy” but he tells the speculative felt crew that it’s pronounced “Bad-gee.” That’s enough to convince everyone, and persuade the only rational thinker Kermit to go ahead with the jet setting excursion.
But, as foreseen, this decision will turn out poorly. Kermit, in an unfortunate double-crossing, is framed as his evil Russian doppelganger Constantine and is sent to a Siberian prison. A funny-accented, dance happy Tina Fey runs the inmates, a diverse group led by Ray Liotta and Benicio Del Torro. Constantine meanwhile uses his Kermit impersonation on the world tour as a disguise for a jewel heist. Each European city they visit unlocks another clue to attain his plunder. Ty Burrell plays an Interpol agent, a silly inspector Closseau type, hurriedly, miserably catching up to each clue left behind.
He, along with Fey and Gervais, get their shot at musical numbers, which provide some colorful fluidity to the story. Most of them involve cameos again, including Frank Langella, Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Ronan, Diddy Combs, Usher, and most magnificently, Celine Dion, who heavily influences a Miss Piggy number. Most of these people and pop culture references, like a silly Hannibal Lecter scene, are for the parents.
Which is why this latest muppet collaboration lacks a certain charm and color its predecessors claim. Kermit is the moral center, but it’s tough to see him depressed in solitary. It’s not easy being green, nor is it easy surviving a gulag. Bobbin allows a curious weight to hang over this movie. It lingers on suspiciously even as everyone sings cheerfully. Maybe he hoped the kids wouldn’t tell the difference.