Muppets Most Wanted (PG)

7 Stars

My relationship with Jim Henson’s sock puppets is presently blooming.

Up until a month ago, I hadn’t seen anything aside from Muppet Vision 3D in Walt Disney World. Since the new film’s in theaters, I decided to catch up and watch the reintroduction I’d missed in 2011.

If you read my earlier review, aside from being my absolute favorite person on Earth, you know The Muppets gets me pretty choked up. I find it touching and riotous.

Muppets Most Wanted is good, but it doesn’t live up to the preceding film.

It’s a little too long, so things start to drag after the ninety-minute mark, and my bias stems from having seen The Muppets two days previous.

Although Jason Segel doesn’t appear to have a hand in this film, favorites from the voice cast return to speak the parts. James Bobin also returns to direct his second feature, and is the lead writer on the screenplay. Nicholas Stoller, a cowriter on the first film, returns to help for the second as well.

To begin, the comedy is not weak. It’s not strong, but I can’t call it weak.

The music numbers are a different story.

The only one I can remember is between Constantine (Kermit the Frog’s evil twin and the world’s number one criminal mastermind) and Ricky Gervais (as Dominic or Number Two). Their duet is one of the better parts of the movie, and things start to slow down afterward.

Speaking of, Ricky Gervais is great, but I find Constantine much less compelling. On The Film Vault, a podcast and the best place to find cinema-related discussion on the web, one of the hosts speaks of his extreme fondness for Kermit’s diabolical double. But I simply can’t conceive of the appeal.

Perhaps it’s the accent. Goofy accents generally don’t do it for me. Particularly Russian ones; I’ve heard way too many Soviet impressions.

And Constantine just feels like another plot device that’s been revisited over and over again.

Even the song he sings to Miss Piggy; while loaded with a number of silly vocabulary words, it’s just a lyrical and visual bore devoid of a memorable or catchy tune.

So, to compare the two films, the music numbers of Muppets Most Wanted leave much to be desired. Although Bret McKenzie returns to compose the musical arrangements, his achievements in the first far outweigh those of the second.

Ultimately I think the film’s greatest weakness can be attributed to the sheer amount of plot with which it engages. There are several narrative strains to follow with diverse levels of compelling material. First of all, Kermit is removed from the story almost instantly, creating his own narrative strain aside from the Muppet tour, now led by Constantine.

Kermit’s narrative posits him in a Russian prison in the criminal’s place, where his varied attempts at escape are foiled by Nadya, played by Tina Fey.

Fey is pretty great, one of the highlights of the whole film, and she brings her ‘A-Game.’ She has several scene stealing jokes and even pulls the accent off better than most.

She certainly does a much better job than Constantine.

The only aspect of the movie greater to Fey’s performance is Sam Eagle and Ty Burrell as Jean Pierre Napoleon, a jokey French inspector. The third narrative strand follows around the pair of detectives as they blunder through an elaborate and oftentimes, silly investigation.

There appears to be some social commentary taking place here. Sam represents the atypical American police officer. Burrell is reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies, so his performance involves a lot of Frenchy slapstick.

Sam’s a buttoned-up hard worker, and Napoleon’s constantly resting whenever the chance presents itself. He’s all too eager to go on vacation and take lunch breaks, although they’re hot on the pursuit of his self-proclaimed ‘arch nemesis.’

The investigative duo is the source of several uproarious laughs, and a delight each time they’re featured on-screen.

Sam Eagle is representative of a greater trend in the Muppet empire that merits discussion. He’s brought to the forefront of the story in Muppets Most Wanted and is clearly the funniest character of all the puppets.

But the French Chef, Statler and Mr. Waldorf, Animal and Sweetums play roles of significantly less prominence.

Miss Piggy’s featured strongly throughout. Of course. As always. What would we do without everybody’s favorite voyeuristic hog?

The pig is the focus of several dull and uncomfortable scenes adding up to a half-hearted chuckle, at best. I will never descend my soapbox about this perspective.

Miss Piggy is, by far, the least interesting Muppet. Yet she dominates a considerable chunk of screen time; moments where Fozzie Bear, Gonzo or any of the aforementioned entertaining puppets can steal scenes or take the narrative in funnier directions.

Instead, we’re left with several momentous sighs of frustration.

So, ultimately, Muppets Most Wanted is a good movie that pales in comparison to The Muppets from 2011.

If you have to pick between the two, forget the big screen, save a couple bucks and order the old film on Netflix or iTunes. You’ll enjoy The Muppets.

And if you don’t, then there’s no need to catch the new film, right?

Thoughts, perchance?

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