Disney snatches up anything that isn’t bolted down, and The Muppets have belonged to “The Mouse Almighty” for a decade now. The last Muppet movie was a big success. Loved by critics and audiences, the $45-million picture grossed more than $150 million and even brought home an Oscar for best original song. Now a bit over two years later, it’s time for the sequel, and I’m happy to say that not only is it an entertaining movie, it’s superior to its predecessor.
The movie resumes seconds after the end of the previous movie. The Muppets are a name again and have decided to capitalize on their triumphant return to the stage with a world tour, hiring international tour manager Dominic Badguy, played by Ricky Gervais (pronounced Badgy, wink wink, nudge nudge.) As they head to Europe, “The World’s Most Dangerous Frog”, Constantine, who looks identical to Kermit, escapes prison and takes over his life and Kermit is falsely arrested. Kermit is taken to a prison, while Constantine and Badguy have a plan to steal the royal jewels and are going to use the Muppets to do it. And that’s more than you need to know. The premise, as cliche as it is, pays off because the movie is completely self aware and commits to the insanity and goofiness of it all. It’s a Muppet movie; that means classic characters, musical numbers and celebrity cameos.
To be frank, I did not enjoy Jason Segel’s “Muppets.” It’s a highly overrated rehash brought down by the plot threads of three uninspired, generic characters that took time away from the Muppets you actually came to see. This movie takes a big step away from that and keeps the plot centered on the actual Muppets. The “we have to put on a show to pull ourselves from financial adversity” plot is completely absent and it’s a big breath of fresh air. The character Constantine is fabulous. He has zero regard for the people around him and watching him try to get through life as Kermit is pretty funny. The voice itself is great; the Eastern European accent telling people “whatever” or “who cares” is hilarious. Ricky Gervais is a decent host; they use him sparingly so you never get sick of him. He’s paired often with Constantine so you’re never bored with either of them. Even the character Walter (who I HATED in the last movie) is played on the down key. (By the way, look up Walter on Google images, then look up Princeton from “Avenue Q” and tell me that Disney didn’t steal that design.)
Now the real question is this: What about the Muppets? Yes, they are all present and accounted for. Everyone has their chance to say something, but that’s the problem. They only get one chance. The Muppets cast is so bloated that even old standbys like Gonzo and The Swedish Chef feel absent. There’s even a line in the movie referring to several specific Muppets whose screen time was axed. I don’t want to put the movie down because the balance here is much better than before and even when they leave the Muppets, what they’re cutting to this time is way better than Jason Segel and his girlfriend in the last movie. But I’m still disappointed that the balance isn’t there yet.
Since this is a Muppet movie, it’s a musical and the music here is stellar. The soundtrack is infectious and I found several songs happily stuck in my head for days after seeing it. Muppet movies are full of cameos and this one is no exception. Most of them are pretty good; a few felt out of place but most were funny. Other supporting characters include Ty Burrell as an Interpol agent teamed up with Sam the Eagle, and Tina Fey as a Russian prison warden. Ricky and Ty are the funniest because they are teamed up with a Muppet to rebound off of. Tina Fey has no partner and is unable to carry her scenes due to the dry material she’s given. While most of the movie is constantly funny, the scenes set in the Siberian prison fell flat, Tina Fey’s only joke is the fact she’s doing a Russian accent. There are a few good jokes here and there but on the whole, it’s the weakest link.
My favorite aspect of the movie might be the relationship between Kermit and Ms. Piggy. It’s always been clear that their relationship was rocky but I’ve always loved it when they explored it (as in the episode of “The Muppet Show” when Kermit fires Piggy.) Kermit’s trying to run this business and no one is listening to him and when Piggy shows up and announces that they’re getting married, he has no patience for it whatsoever. It plays even deeper when Constantine arrives and tries to court Piggy. All he has to do is play on her insecurities (which pour from her like a waterfall) and and you end up getting one of the best musical numbers in the movie.
Or maybe I’m just looking at this way too closely. One final note: The last 20 to 30 minutes felt really rushed. I can’t tell you how it ends, but you can probably guess it, it’s that simple. I know it’s a kids’ movie but that’s no excuse for bad writing. I didn’t like the last movie, but I did recognize that a lot of heart and appreciation for the Muppet Show went into it. That same sense of love for the classic Muppets is not carried over.
I’ve always been a Muppet lover but the Muppets haven’t really put out anything to be proud of in almost two decades, but this breaks that mold. The music, cast, humor and plot come a long way. The director, James Bobin, directed the last one and I think he’s made positive steps forward. It’s not perfect by any means but is a big improvement. We have not seen the last of the Muppets; they’ll always be around. What we don’t know is how long it will be till the next one. If it’s similar to this one, I welcome it. I give this 3 “Manamanahs” out of 4.