I think you either love The Muppets or you don’t and, as such, your response to their most recent cinematic outing is probably going to be influenced by your appreciation, or otherwise, of the various characters that populate this world. As an unabashed Muppets fan, I was ecstatic when The Muppets hit cinemas in 2011, proved a critical and box office success and spawned the inevitable sequel, Muppets Most Wanted. This eighth big screen incarnation of The Muppets is nothing more, or less, than you would expect from this merry troupe of furry friends, with the countless number of blink-and-you-miss-them cameos from celebrities and Hollywood A-listers a clear indication of the cultural cache that The Muppets still possess more than 35 years since they first hit television screens.
As always, the storyline is simply about creating a scenario that allows the various Muppet characters to engage in all manner of hijinks and visual gags that, for me at least, never fail to amuse. In this instance, the aptly named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) takes over as manager of our ragtag troupe amid promises of worldwide stardom. Of course, Badguy is merely using The Muppets for nefarious means, teaming up with criminal mastermind Constantine – a spitting image of Kermit the Frog – who has escaped from a German gulag with plans to steal England’s crown jewels. Along with Gervais, others who feature prominently include Tina Fey as clueless prison warden Nadya and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell as bumbling French detective Jean Pierre Napoleon. There are few surprises in how it all pans out but there is much fun to be had in the sheer cluelessness of the collective with regard to Constantine’s infiltration of their ranks, and it is subsequently the most unlikely member of the group who emerges as a hero of sorts, the only one who is alert to the fact that something is amiss.
Whilst on the surface The Muppets seem very much aimed at young audiences, it has been their ability to transcend generations that have enabled them to remain relevant. Whilst Muppets Most Wanted contains a copious amount of colour, movement and musical numbers to keep kids happy, there is plenty more going on that is clearly aimed at a much older demographic. From the opening song in which Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Animal and the gang celebrate the opportunity to make a sequel, the film takes aim at many industry practices and there are pop culture references galore. The film parodies movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Mission Impossible, Silence of the Lambs and even Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, references clearly aimed at adults. Furthermore, whilst the hijinks inside the prison are funny enough regardless, the humour that results from the appearance of Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo in a series of song and dance routines would be lost on anybody unfamiliar with their more typical on-screen personas.
While Gervais does a serviceable job as the smarmy Dominic and Fey is great as Nadya, it is of course the puppets and their masters who are the stars of the show. All the regulars are on hand, including the wise cracking Statler and Waldorf, while Sam the Eagle takes on a prominent role as an FBI agent teamed with Burrell’s Napoleon, poking fun at the French work ethic along the way. This particular relationship mocks the endless array of cop movies featuring mismatched partners that emanate from Hollywood, and is much more amusing than most of the films it is lampooning. Writer/director James Bobin, who helmed the 2011 Muppet reboot after a lengthy run in television comedy that included Da Ali G Show and Flight of the Conchords, does a good job in maintaining the right balance between the human characters and the puppets to create a film that, whilst maybe not quite as good as its predecessor, is pretty darn good all the same. It seems that Jim Henson’s legacy will live on for some time to come with The Muppets seemingly as popular and profitable ever.