The Muppets. I gave it 2.5 stars but I came away less than pleased. I'm quick to forgive though and here we are with 2014's Muppets Most Wanted.
Having put themselves back on the map.....well, sort of, the Muppets must decide what to do now with their rediscovered fame. Kermit the Frog wants to take it slow, letting the group find their rhythm before jumping back into the limelight. The rest of the Muppets? Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, Gonzo, Rowlf the Dog and the whole crew want to embrace the spotlight. Kermit goes along with it somewhat unwillingly, the Muppets hiring a manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who unfortunately has some other plans. Badguy is partners with Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog and recently escaped from a Siberian gulag. Their evil, crazy, ridiculous plan? Constantine kidnaps Kermit -- a spot-on lookalike -- and sends him back to the gulag while he takes over the Muppets. Can the gang figure out what's going on or is Kermit doomed to waste away in Siberia?
It wasn't just that 2011's The Muppets wasn't good. It had its moments, and let's be honest. As long as the actual Muppets characters are around, a movie has to be halfway decent, right? Whatever the reasons -- and I'm still processing those reasons -- I liked this version far more. The reviews were about the same, and this follow-up actually made far less money (about $75 million) so go figure. I can't explain it everyone else. For me, I liked the cameos more. The story was goofy but funny. And no disrespect to Jason Segel and Amy Adams and Walter (who's still around), but I never found myself truly interested in their story. Here, I went along for the ride a little bit more. Sure, there are still some flaws that I don't know if any new Muppets movie can fix/solve but those flaws are minimized.
What did director/co-writer James Bobin and writer Nicholas Stoller get right this time around? For starters, more of a focus on the actual Muppets, those created by their founder and brilliant mind Jim Henson. We see Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, Animal and the whole crew. The voices behind the familiar faces are different, but it's a seamless transition. Walter returns but he's just one of the gang now, not a major focus and that's a good thing. It's fun watching these characters you grew up watching. Their running bits, their sight gags, their subtle one-liners, it's all there. Could there be more focus on our favorite Muppets? Sure, but what's there is getting back to basics.
If there's an issue, it's the over-reliance on the cameos, the surprise appearances from the Hollywood masses. The key characters include Gervais, nicely cast as the evil sidekick to Constantine, Tina Fey as Nadya, the musically-minded commander of the Siberian gulag, and Modern Family's Ty Burrell as an Interpol agent tracking down Constantine, Sam the Eagle making a memorable appearance as his C.I.A. agent counterpart. They're all solid, all bringing the laughs...but that's just a start. Also look out for -- and take a deep breath -- Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville, Jemaine Clement, P. Diddy, Rob Corddry, Celine Dion, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy, Usher, Stanley Tucci, Danny Trejo, Christoph Waltz and probably a bunch others I'm forgetting. Most are a quick scene, a blink and you'll miss it appearance.
And there's the bigger issue. The movie becomes more about the goofiness, kookiness and I hate to say it, the gimmick. It doesn't feel like a movie, just a series of running gags. With this much talent assembled, some of them are going to work. The Muppets' complete acceptance of Constantine as Kermit is pretty hilarious. Animal's immediate awareness of what's going on is perfect. The musical numbers are excellent and far better than the original, especially 'We're Doing a Sequel' and 'I'm Number Two.' It is a movie missing that special something, those magic Muppet moments. It's really good but just not a classic.
Muppets Most Wanted (2014): ***/****