VOD film review: Muppets Most Wanted
Ivan Radford | On 29, Dec 2014
Director: James Bobin
Cast: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Constantine, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey
Watch Muppets Most Wanted online in the UK: Disney+ / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“We’re doing a sequel…” sings Kermit the Frog at the start of Muppets Most Wanted, a sequel to 2011’s The Muppets. It’s par for the course for Jim Henson’s furry creations, who have never been afraid to sidestep convention for a bit of self-aware silliness.
Muppets Most Wanted, then, is just what fans could want. That, in a way, is the problem: the film’s unrestrained embrace of anarchy is, ironically, all too predictable.
The set-up is simple: with no idea what to do for a second movie, the gang find themselves wooed by a nice agent, Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Badgee” – it’s French). Played by Ricky Gervais with minimal Ricky Gervaisness, he’s no Jason Segel or Amy Adams, but proves an amusing human companion for our madcap puppets, steering them from city to city so that he can carry out art heists while the public is distracted.
The villain of the piece, though, is an altogether more inspired choice: Constantine the Frog, who looks exactly the same as Kermit, except for a mole on his cheek. A dab of green face paint and a stick-on mole later, and Constantine has infiltrated the troupe, while Kermit is dragged off to the Russian gulag.
The gulag, run by Tina Fey, is a grim place – but one with a nifty line in chorus numbers. “Welcome to the Big House!” the inmates all sing, with everyone from Jemaine Clements off Flight of the Conchords to Ray Liotta popping up in jumpsuits. Bret McKenzie’s songs continue to be just the right blend of witty and wildly daft – the opening and closing numbers are real standouts – a combination that makes up for what soon feels like an endless parade of celebrity cameos.
Fey is fun as the closet-Kermit obsessive, all leather gloves and stern deadpan, while Ty Burrell is fantastic as a gloriously stereotypical French cop, who clashes with the CIA’s Sam the Eagle over everything from lunch breaks to the size of their badges. Others, though, are unnecessary, as James McAvoy turns up as a delivery man, Lady Gaga serves tea, and even Steve Carrell does a stint of guard duty. This string of big names who add nothing to the narrative only distracts from who should be the real stars of the show: the Muppets.
If the cycle of famous friends and Eurotrip heists becomes repetitive, though, director James Bobin makes sure that the giggles keep coming too. Even if it disappoints on a first viewing, re-watches reveal more and more background details to make you smile. The biggest laughs of all, though, stem from Matt Vogel’s performance as Constantine. Also the voice of Robin and Floyd Pepper, Vogel goes full comic Russian for the bad frog, never sounding remotely like Kermit, even as he fools the others. “Hiiii hooooo, Kearmeet the frawggg heeere,” he recites, looking like a puppeteer’s hand just went up the wrong hole.
It’s a joke that doesn’t get old, taking us all the way from an explosive prison escape to a dramatic wedding with a carefully arched eyebrow. If 2011’s The Muppets dealt in nostalgia for the days of old, Muppets Most Wanted is a deliberate return to those 70s and 80s variety show escapades, but one that plays with our expectations in a wonderfully 21st century way: it’s only because we love Kermit so much that this bizarre stranger is so entertaining to watch. Promising cockatoos in Malibu to anyone who will believe him, Constantine is a surreal flourish in a screwball caper that could otherwise seem all too familiar or dated. Yes, the whole affair may be predictable to fans, but so is your reaction to it all: it’s simply very, very funny. Sensational? Sometimes. Inspirational? Not quite. Muppetational? Definitely.
Muppets Most Wanted is available on Disney+, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription or a £59.99 yearly subscription.