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EVERY TIME I SEE A MUPPET MOVIE, I’M REMINDED of just how much I want to see the actual show. Not the backstage antics, not the moving pieces, not the celebrities interacting with Gonzo, but the actual show from the audience perspective. I want to be in a box with Statler and Waldorf and take in the entire thing, from start to finish.
Of course, the Muppets are as much about poking fun at show business as they are about good family fun, but I want to watch the indoor running of the bulls transition into a five-song Celine Dion tribute by Miss Piggy, followed up with an Electric Mayhem slow jam featuring a three-hour Animal drum solo. That’s real entertainment.
Despite the obvious family themes and juvenile humor, I’m still convinced that Muppet movies are made for people between 30-40 years old. There’s too much background knowledge needed to catch all the jokes. “Muppets Most Wanted,” the latest sequel in the seven feature film franchise, is every bit as much a Muppet movie as any previous incarnation, with pig puns, self-referential humor and celebrity cameos. Children might have a hard time keeping up with all the characters, but they’ve got to start somewhere, right?
This Muppet film doesn’t deviate from much from the standard plot. Picking up immediately after the final shot in “The Muppets”, this film is, like most of the other films, all about a road trip (an international tour this time), keeping the Muppets together, and not taking the important people in our lives for granted. It’s filled with clever songs, recognizable celebrities and standard Muppet humor.
The opening song is likely the best, making fun of the Hollywood sequel obsession and the importance of money-making franchises. The best jokes are about the absurdity of Hollywood and the interconnected plot of the previous movie (“Walter quit the Muppets? Didn’t we just do a whole movie about Walter wanting to join the Muppets?”)
This one has Rickey Gervais (as Dominic Badguy), and Constantine, the World’s Most Dangerous Frog, sending Kermit to a Russian gulag in order to highjack the Muppet Show and steal England’s crown jewels. Not that it matters—Kermit only ends up in a Russian gulag so the audience has an opportunity to see Danny Trejo perform in the annual Prison Review (“Don’t Riot!”). It’s exactly as entertaining as it sounds. Machete might not text, but he sure does dance.
Muppet movies are always fun, especially for the first few minutes, but the truth is that the concept works much better as a weekly television series. There are only so many bacon jokes one can handle in an hour and counting celebrities gets tiring after a while. And this film is lacking the charm and wit of Jason Segal, who wrote and starred in 2011’s “The Muppets,” and is likely the only person in Hollywood to really give the Muppets the respect they deserve. Not to mention that we can’t help but be reminded that Jim Henson is nowhere to be found, as even his son has now shuffled off this mortal coil. There is an emptiness to be found between the lines of the movie, which even though it’s funny and fun, is not the same and never will be.
Much like the jokes packed into the opening song, we are reminded that the Muppets are a money-making franchise that will never be allowed to die with honor. There’s too much at stake for the shareholders of Disney. I couldn’t help but feel an underlying cynicism lurking beneath the colors and music.
But enough of that. I went to see “Muppets Most Wanted” with my son because I knew he’d like it. That’s what it’s for, and the result was a fully engaged and giggling four year old transfixed by the silliness on the big screen. It was certainly enough to keep him happy and I’d rather have him love the Muppets than grasp onto every animated cartoon that shouts at him from the television. At one point, he turned to me and whispered, “Daddy! That guy! I know that guy!” I suppose he gets the point of the Muppets—after all.