A strange sense of doom hangs over the rebooted Muppets, and it’s not from the Swedish Chef’s cooking.
“The Muppets” (2011) may have been an earnest and largely successful relaunch for Jim Henson’s troupe, but it also had a hangdog melancholy, fretting about the obsolescence of Kermit and the gang. Pop-culture insecurity looms in “Muppets Most Wanted,” too, which begins with the same self-conscious tone as the last film in the musical number “We’re Doing a Sequel.”
Though Dr. Bunsen Honeydew notes this is technically the Muppets’ seventh sequel, they nevertheless sing: “And everyone knows the sequel’s not quite as good.”
The Muppets don’t need a sequel. They need a shrink. It seems they’ve swapped “the most inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational” show for an ongoing pity party.
“Muppets Most Wanted,” thankfully, soon enough dispatches the previous film’s mopey nostalgia and sets things on a more madcap course: a European caper, not unlike 1981’s “The Great Muppet Caper.” The ingredients are here: Tina Fey as a Broadway-loving Gulag guard in Soviet chic; Ty Burrell in Inspector Clouseau mode; Ricky Gervais as the comically obvious bad guy (name: Dominic Badguy).
What’s missing? Many would say Jason Segel, the star and co-writer of “The Muppets.” He’s the holdout of largely the same, solid creative team: director James Bobin, co-writer Nicholas Stoller and music supervisor Bret McKenzie.
But the bigger problem with “Muppets Most Wanted” is a failure to find the right human-to-Muppet ratio and a screwball feel for how the species interact. Most successful are Fey (who emerges as an unlikely rival to Miss Piggy for Kermit’s heart) and Burrell (an Interpol policeman paired with the CIA’s Sam the Eagle).
Judging the Muppets against their own high standards is perhaps unfair, particularly when we’ve been absent of Henson’s genius for nearly 25 years. “Muppets Most Wanted” may not rise to the irreverent slapstick the gang once did, but it is still, after all, the Muppets.
— Jake Coyle,
‘Muppets Most Wanted’
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey. (Some mild action)