For me, the Muppets encapsulate my childhood, teenagehood, and yes, even adulthood. I don’t think I’ll ever not love what the Muppets are all about. They’re about friendship, about laughter, about believing in yourself and others – so much so that you’re willing to be blown out of a canon, be thrown out of an airplane while stuck in a crate, or ride a bike while standing on one frog foot. I grew up watching the many stages of the Muppets – from the original movies, videotapes of 80s-era TV Christmas specials (I still watch A Muppet Family Christmas every year without fail), the ever-so-adorable Muppet Babies, to the 90s-era Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol, to the more forgettable and awkward Muppets Tonight (on TGIF!) and their take on Oz starring huge sensation Ashanti (remember her?), and finally to 2011’s fun ‘comeback’ in The Muppets. Some reincarnations are better than others, but the recent two films, including the newly released Muppets Most Wanted, take me back to the original vision created by Jim Henson so many decades ago.
Muppets Most Wanted provides another caper-themed story, but unlike 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, Ricky Gervais’ Dominic Badguy is pulling a fast one on Kermit and Co. The story follows the felt gang (via train because why not) as they go on a world tour after their success during their previous movie venture (The Muppets) and quickly poke fun at the zeitgeist of today’s sequel obsession. The movie takes us to Germany, Spain, Ireland, England, and lastly Russia where Kermit has been sent to the gulag in a case of mistaken identity with the world’s most dangerous and wanted frog, Constantine. For any Muppet aficionado, this plotline may feel reminiscent of The Muppets Take Manhattan when Kermit suffers from amnesia while the rest of the group tries to make him come to his senses.
Overall, the film successfully delivers charm, wit, and slapstick humor at once. It also delivers some great toe-tapping tunes. And if you know anything about the film, you’ll recognize song composer Bret McKenzie’s presence immediately, as many of the songs feel very Flight of the Conchords-y. My personal favorite, and the one that made me laugh the most, was the Constantine-led “I’ll Get What You Want (Cockatoo In Malibu),” sung to a skeptical Miss Piggy, which felt similar to Conchords’ disco-inspired “Something Special for the Ladies.” To make it more obvious, and awesome, Jemaine Clement makes an amusing cameo as a Russian prison inmate.
I also appreciated the European cultural and social references, even if teetering on the edge of being overly stereotypical. However, instead of these being a slight to a European way of life, such as Ty Burrell’s Frenchman immediately going on an eight-week paid vacation the moment his job was done, I felt that the movie was actually, albeit subtly, critiquing aspects of American culture (after all, director and co-writer James Bobin is English). Speaking of Ty Burrell, I found his Interpol officer, alongside CIA agent Sam the Eagle, incredibly entertaining and nuanced.
If you are even the slightest fan of the Muppets, I guarantee that you’ll enjoy this film. The movie did, however, remind me of the strange limbo that is the Muppet audience. Is this a film targeted for children? Or is it strictly for adults? The list of celebrity cameos would definitely make it seem the latter. I personally enjoyed the cameos, but I’m fairly certain that most kids don’t know who Tony Bennett, Danny Trejo, Christoph Waltz, or even Celine Dion are. Heck, do they even know Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, or Ty Burrell, the three main human stars of the film? With the exception of the Muppet Babies cartoon, I think the Muppets tend to target the adult demographic (without ever being too adult), yet their marketing strategies may point to other target demographics. I feel this is probably why the past Muppet efforts sometimes fall flat at the box office, proving that not only is it not easy being green, it’s also not easy making green. But I have no doubt that future film and television endeavors from the Muppets and the Jim Henson Company won’t continue to deliver the same charm, the same idiosyncratic musings on our cultures, and the same warm and fuzzy memories – literally and figuratively.