Review: “Muppets Most Wanted”

The Muppets are some of the most endearing pop culture icons in history. They’re just so darn lovable that even in their most kid-centric fare, there’s usually enough in there to entertain the adults, especially now. Many adults today grew up with the Muppets and, thanks to their big time resurgence in 2011’s succinctly titled “The Muppets,” they’re able to share the joy they experienced as children with their very own young ones.

I imagine there’s nothing more pleasing than watching your child as he or she stares up at that screen in awe at something you too once found so magical. It’s here where the new film, “Muppets Most Wanted,” succeeds. Whereas “The Muppets” leaned heavily on nostalgia, to the point where it could be argued that adults would get more out of it than kids, this film is strongly focused on the tykes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it admittedly comes as a disappointment following its strong predecessor. Still, “Muppets Most Wanted” is charming and ridiculous in all the right ways.

The film takes place immediately after the first one. The story has wrapped and the Muppets wonder what they’re going to do next; that is until they see the cameras still lingering around. This must mean, they surmise, that they’re doing a sequel. After a hilarious opening number about sequels (and how they’re never quite as good as the original), they’re off on their next adventure with Dominic Badguy (whose last name means “Good Man” in French), played by Ricky Gervais.

He claims to be a tour manager and agrees to jet them around the world to perform. However, he’s actually in cahoots with Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog” who uses their tour as a cover to commit crime. Before Kermit knows it, Constantine takes his place, given that they look almost exactly alike, while he rots away in a Russian prison run by Nadya (Tina Fey).

The story in “Muppets Most Wanted” isn’t great and it certainly doesn’t contain the meaning or emotion its predecessor had in spades. But while this won’t touch you the way “The Muppets” did, it will make you smile. And if you’re familiar with famous films, you’ll find even more to enjoy, with references to movies like Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” thrown for fun. The best moments in the film, however, come from its self-awareness, like with its aforementioned jabs at sequels despite being a sequel itself (the eighth one, to be exact, as Scooter points out) or with the gang’s quick narrative visit to “Plotpointburg.”

“Muppets Most Wanted” doesn’t stop there in its skewering of screenplay crutches or pop culture; even the various celebrities who appear as cameos don’t mind being poked fun of, like when pop star Usher shows up as, you guessed it, an usher. While most of these cameos are too good to spoil here, it goes without saying that the film, as with most Muppets productions, is filled to the brim with recognizable stars in bit parts that they would never accept for anything else. That’s just simply how desirable it is to be in a Muppets movie.

The film falters, however, when it gets around to its musical numbers. You won’t find a “Rainbow Connection” here, or even a catchy little ditty like “Life’s a Happy Song” from the last film. Aside from the opening number, not a single song is memorable, and even that opening song works more due to its self-referential humor than it does its actual musical composition. “Muppets Most Wanted” isn’t as light on its feet as previous films and a few solid musical numbers would have gone a long way towards curing that sense of boredom that occasionally sets in.

Yet “Muppets Most Wanted” is still entertaining. Despite a few adult jokes, this one is mostly for the kids, and that’s totally fine. Kids need the Muppets, a ragtag group of friends who love and accept each other, where no two are alike and whose differences aren’t highlighted, but nevertheless make them who they are. The Muppets have always been inclusive and their enthusiasm is infectious. This newest film is silly and has a goofy story (more so than usual), but that’s part of its charm and while you won’t be blown away, you’ll still walk out with a happy grin on your face.