Muppets Most Wanted knows it’s a sequel and its chances are impaired. The first of its many musical numbers is all about what it means to be a sequel and whether or not that has to be a fate worse than death. Instead of succumbing to the easy temptation of making a “normal” Muppets film, director James Bobin returns us to the exact moment and state of mind where the reboot left off, with America’s favorite variety-show veterans reunited, recharged, ready to put on the big show…but left asking each other: now what do we do?
(Courtesy mild spoiler alert: This entry covers both the contents of the end credits and all the cameos I could catch. If you like to be surprised by the cameos, an integral part of every Muppets film, you might want to slide right past that section without skimming.)
Short version for the unfamiliar: Yep, they’re back. With no follow-up projects scheduled after the showstopping finale of The Muppets, said Muppets can’t say no when suspicious event manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) proposes they take their act on the road for a world tour. As their showrunner, Kermit sets aside his reservations and bows to the will of the majority, and the entire troupe is off to Europe. As revealed in the trailer, Badguy is in cahoots with Earth’s public enemy #1, a Russian gulag escapee named Constantine who’s Kermit’s evil twin if you hide his mole and ignore his dreadful accent and attitude. The old switcheroo puts Kermit in the gulag, Constantine in charge of the Muppets, and Our Heroes ignorant but satisfied because, per self-aware movie cliché, they can’t tell the difference. Also, Constantine lets them do whatever they want on stage. If you know the Muppets, you know this is unwise.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: This is the part with the surprise actors and cameos and such, so run away now if you already have plans to see it for yourself and want to retain your doe-eyed movie-enjoyment innocence.
Besides Gervais, other meaty human roles are awarded to Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell (see also Mr. Peabody and Sherman) as a Clouseauian Interpol agent who partners with CIA agent Sam the Eagle to track down the culprit in a series of mysterious crimes that just so happen to occur next door to the Muppets’ overseas venues; and to TV’s Tina Fey as the gulag warden with a heart of gold. Kermit’s gulag buddies include Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo as Danny Trejo, and Jemaine Clement from Men in Black 3 and Flight of the Conchords. (Tangent: the other Conchord, Bret McKenzie, wrote most of the film’s songs.) In a nod to the previous film, Zach Galifianakis returns briefly as good ol’ Hobo Joe.
During the world-tour performances, the Huppets’ special guests include Two-Time Academy Award Winner Christoph Waltz, Salma Hayek, and a quiet but graceful Saoirse Ronan. Miss Piggy gets a dream-sequence duet with Celine Dion. I probably missed a few cameos and will have to look them up on IMDb after I’m done typing here, but without assistance I recognized Frank Langella, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville, James McAvoy, Chloe Grace Moretz, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Puff Daddy/Diddy/whatever, Usher, Rob Corddry, Josh Groban, Russell Tovey, Stanley Tucci, and Tom Hiddleston. Some have a line or two; some are split-second Easter eggs.
Nitpicking? So. Many. Songs. 112 minutes seems long for a funny puppet musical, and while the songs are overall catchy and chuckle-worthy, I can’t help feeling a couple could’ve been trimmed and saved for the DVD. I’d peg the welcome-to-the-gulag tune as most superfluous, as the gulag stages much finer musical moments later on. For what it’s worth, those parts of Muppets Most Wanted may well comprise the greatest gulag musical ever aired outside North Korea.
I was amused that the Muppets’ idea of a “world tour” assumes for argument’s sake that Europe is the world. To be fair, it’s a hoax and Badguy’s scheme doesn’t require setting foot in any part of the Southern Hemisphere, but I was amused anyway.
Also, any appearance by Lady Gaga, in anything ever, counts as an unwanted distraction. For the record.
On a nearly unrelated note: Muppets Most Wanted is paired with a new Monsters University short from Pixar called “Party Central”, which takes place during Mike and Sully’s days in the timid Oozma Kappa frat. It amounts to a clever deleted scene, but anyone who hasn’t seen Monsters U (e.g., my wife) won’t get much out of it.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? It’s the Muppets, not Sesame Street. For kids this may be their first chance to see how the old “evil twin” plot works. Life lessons are in short supply, but I can extract two for adults that kids might overlook:
1. If your closest friend ever begins acting the opposite of themselves or speaking with an ugly accent, it may not be a mental health concern. They may have been secretly replaced by their evil twin. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the warning signs. If symptoms persist, test your friend relentlessly until they crack and confess.
2. When temperamental talents like Miss Piggy and Gonzo are told they can do anything onstage, without the real Kermit’s sensible wisdom to keep them in check, the results are worse than you’re imagining right now. The moral: some artists should not be given unlimited artistic freedom. Sometimes it’s good to have someone else in charge. Constructive criticism, fair boundaries, and the willingness to say NO can be invaluable to keeping a career on the right track and saving an audience from deep aesthetic trauma.
So did I like it or not? It’s really hard to hate the Muppets, and I’m glad never felt compelled to here. It’s not quite the franchise-saving revelation that reboot was, but it maintains the same level of fourth-wall self-awareness and it’s more amusing than some of their pre-reboot efforts. The Muppet voices improved noticeably over the last film’s shaky Frank Oz substitutes. And Ty Burrell does a crazy Pink Panther homage. I freely admit I’ll forget portions of this movie in six to twelve months, but it’s perfectly fine as a temporary getaway with some old friends.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene after the Muppets Most Wanted end credits. Even after you pass the initial large-print section that herds most commoners toward the exits, the live action keeps up for a bit as Sweetums and a few other Muppets have to hoist the credits upward using offscreen pulleys. Thankfully Dr. Bunsen Honeydew automates the process and the credits become self-scrolling.
Partway through, while your eyes are glazing over at the long list that includes bizarre job titles such as “Hod Plasterer”, Fozzie pops in, hangs his hat on a jutting block of names, laughs and exits while his hat rises up and out.
At the very end, Fozzie enters one last time, turns to us, and says, “You can go home now, Ma. The movie’s over!”
(Ba-dump, ba-dump-bump! Bwaaaaaaah.)