Sunday, April 6, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted: A film review from Robert Steven Mack

Greetings ladies and gentlemen! Spread the word: I’m back...and loving it! Today, I shall be offering my few cents on a new movie event that struck theaters a few weeks ago: Muppets Most Wanted. Speaking of comebacks!

So, it turns out their last film succeeded in rebuilding Jim Henson’s rather iconic franchise...with a twenty-first century look. Kermit. Fozzie. A vain female pig. A whatever. In the The Muppets (2011), we had the opportunity to get to know these characters better than ever before. What it thrived on was an intense emotional touch, a treat for sentimental old fools such as myself who appreciate the Muppets' past glory.

So what about this new one, Muppets Most Wanted? As Kermit sings in the opening, the sequel is never quite as good as the original. Most people seem quite attached to that theory. Many have affirmed that the film is solid yet expressed their view toward its inferiority. Do I agree?

Well, their last film has wrapped, and the Muppets are unsure of how to continue. What to do? Go on a world tour, many start to chant. Enter Dominic “the Lemur” Badguy (Ricky Gervais), a villain ranked # 2 worldwide, posing as a potential agent for the Muppets, who plans to use the Muppets to steal the crown jewels of England. His partner in crime is a wanted Russian criminal, Constantine, who - except for a distinctive wart on his face - oddly resembles Kermit.

Kermit is pensive at first about sharing his leadership role with Dominic, but finally gives in after persuasion from the other Muppets. After making some risky investments that appear to pay off, the Muppets begin to respect Dominic more than Kermit himself.

Planning their first performance at the grand opera house later that night, Kermit walks through the uglier parts of Berlin when confronted with Constantine, who plants a wart on Kermits face and disguises himself as his nicer counterpart. Kermit is promptly dragged to the Russian Gulag under the belief he is the world’s #1 criminal.

The new Kermit, a tricky character, is a lot less strict with the Muppets than the old one. He even proposes to Miss Piggy while in Dublin, Ireland, their third stop after Madrid, Spain.

Meanwhile, Sam the Eagle, a CIA Agent, and his Interpol counterpart, played by Ty Burrell, together pursue heists in all the places the Muppets performed-all part of the two ingenious criminals plan. Kermit, while at the Gulag, meets up with Nadya (Tina Fey), a strict, yet love-sick prison guard.

Walter, Fonzie, and Animal figure out Constantine’s true identity and escape to the Gulag to save Kermit, before the still fooled Miss Piggy marries her conniving “lover” in London.

The previous film, though humorous, benefited the most from its bittersweet emotional edge. This film lacked that, but made up for it in its thoughtful characters and comedy. 

In the 2011 movie, the human characters came off at times as flat and obtrusive. In the Muppets Most Wanted, Ty Burrell, Ricky Gervais, and Tina Fey were given good parts and executed them extremely well. The human performers came off as truly beneficial to a Muppet movie as never before in the history of their theatrical releases. They added to the film, and you believed the Muppets were real when they interacted with such well-formed and interesting characters. Tina Fey was marvelous as a prison guard: I could feel her conflicted feelings for Kermit as a prisoner and as her crush came off very nicely. Gervais was nothing short of hilarious as the villainous criminal who scoffs at being inferior to his partner, a frog. And Ty Burrell was whimsical in portraying along with Sam the Eagle, how two competitive government agencies -  CIA and INTERPOL- can manage to get along in the most gratifying way.

“The Rainbow Connection”, “Pictures in My Head”, and “Man or a Puppet” from The Muppets highlights an astounding range of musical moments that are not easy to live up to. The three I mentioned highlight the heartwarming sentimentality and emotional self-discovery basis on which the first film thrived. So what about the songs, you rightfully ask of Muppets Most Wanted?  I can’t complain. The score was a lot of fun and charmingly inventive! Nothing dragged.

“The Big House” with Tina Fey and her band of merry prisoners was catchy and seemed a bit of an irreverent, poetic addition to the film in an upbeat, foot-tapping way. Good fun. "Interrogation Song” was also so comically silly and likeable; I’ve still got it buzzing away in my head.

“I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” sung by Constantine to Piggy was not exactly silly and seemed like a more traditional Muppet presentation. But I loved it. It was perfect.

“We’re doing a Sequel” was a fittingly grand opening, Muppet-style that allowed the film to poke fun on itself just a little.

“Something So Right” was the film’s one emotional song with an odd, irreverent appearance from Celine Dion. It was funny, but also a testament to how the film ends up identifying itself as a comedy. Piggy sings about her wedding to Constantine and how she feels upset for a reason she cannot identify. Well-written and worthy of decent praise, the song still lacks the immense power of “Man or Muppet” or “Pictures In My Head”, some high points of the last film. Muppets Most Wanted, however, does not have any high points. It runs smoothly from start to finish devoid of bumps. This song therefore, cannot be put down. It was excellent and fit perfectly.

Last, but definitely not least for the film’s original songs, “I’m Number One” features Constantine crooning and Dominic lamenting over the fact that Constantine has surpassed Dominic, or “the Lemur” in the international rankings of dangerous criminals. It might be my favorite. It’s absolutely hilarious. Period. It’s a lovable piece of work that includes tap-dancing, cool, painful jumps, and a marvelous bit of text to use whenever competition with your rivals has reached a triumphant climax.

The finale of the film is a reprise of “Together Again” from Muppets Take Manhattan, one of my other favorite Muppet films, and is a suitable ending to the film. The film’s songs are comfortable and blend in perfectly with the rest of the material.

The comedy in this film is more intelligent than both other Muppet films and today’s formula family film. The jokes about Ty Burrell’s constant vacations as an agent were amusing. The songs of course were not without wit. “The Big House”, “I’m Number One”, and “We’re Doing a Sequel” are terrific examples.

I enjoyed seeing the different locations and the spy theme worked a lot better than the Muppets previous attempt in The Great Muppet Caper (1981), not a bad film, but not as good as this.

The film is accessible to everyone. There is humor for adults and children and alike and were sewn together seamlessly in the film. It’s good, family entertainment that utterly fails in being categorized as “bland and uninteresting”, as Grandpa Simpson would put it.

Going around the world and encountering criminals is not a new road. Remember Cars 2? I originally thought that would make the film a bit bland. Watching it, I discovered significant error in that presumption. The film is witty and original in ways that renders such a deeming irrelevant.

Apparently the film was inspired by The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Pink Panther and The Thomas Crown Affair. These inspirations were identifiable, yet loose. The film stands alone.

The Muppets film is a sentimental, character-driven, and also not unintelligent-though in a different manner-blazing tribute to the past. This film goes in a different direction: a feel-good comedy with plenty of fun and adventure. A wise move indeed. To re-iterate, its comedy is the best of all the Muppet films. It’s not without a heart, but its aim is fun and adventure. From beginning to the very last few seconds, the film rolls along briskly and admirably. The Muppets are off and running. It has been confirmed. If they continue on this path, we can certainly expect great things from them in the future.

copyright 2014 by Robert Steven Mack

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