After their successful 2011 reboot, we rejoin the Muppets for another adventure with Kermit, Miss Piggy and… Kermit again?
Following their celebrated reunion, the Muppets are approached by a duplicitous slimeball (Ricky Gervais, naturally), who takes them on a world tour, selling out theatres all over Europe. But when “the world’s most dangerous frog” Constantine (Matt Vogel) escapes from Russia, he replaces Kermit (Steve Whitmire) who is promptly thrown in a Gulag.
Gulag humour is an area of comedy seldom explored by family films, but Muppets Most Wanted is funny from start to finish. With references, self-awareness and satire, the fuzzy puppets still manage to make us laugh more than most humans.
In fact, it seems unfair that the names plastered all over the movie posters are Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey while Steve Whitmire and co. fly unceremoniously under the radar, despite the joy they’ve brought us for decades. It’s their impressive puppetry and vocals that gives this film its heart. You forget you’re watching bits of fabric being wiggled around on sticks, as you invest in these expertly operated loveable characters.
The humans are also good, with every bit part filled by some surprise cameo, which are best left unspoiled. Tina Fey is a brilliant Russian and Ty Burrell a hilarious Frenchman, but Ricky Gervais’ presence is more distracting than anything else, as his limited range makes it impossible to see him as anyone other than Ricky Gervais. At first the film threatens to become more like The Ricky Gervais Show than The Muppet Show, but his screen time is mercifully curtailed as the plot zips along.
It’s a great plot too, more of a proper adventure than the getting-the-band-back-together setup of The Muppets. This allows for some superb running gags and subplots, the best of which is undoubtedly the buddy cop dynamic between Ty Burrell’s over-the-top European and Eric Jacobson’s all-American Sam Eagle.
If there’s a problem with the film it’s in the sound mixing of Brett McKenzie’s well-composed songs, in which it’s often impossible to hear the witty lyrics over the music. But this might just be a technical problem with one cinema.
Funny, irreverent and energetic, Muppets Most Wanted is another joyous entry into their 40-year canon. It’s wonderful to see these eccentric characters still doing their thing after all this time, keeping the spirit of Jim Henson truly alive. Oh and Fozzie is the best one.