Blu-Ray Review: Muppets Most Wanted

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mup1After the brilliant Muppet comeback of the Muppet Movie, it was inevitable that a sequel was just around the corner.  The big question would be what approach they would take with this one.  There have always been two sides to the Muppets; the self-referential meta side, and the side where the Muppets just have wacky adventures.  All the Muppet movies have elements of each, but the best of them are able to combine these elements into a hybrid of hilarious storytelling.  It turns out that the sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, begins as the former and slowly transitions into the latter.  Considering that a huge portion of the current Muppet audience isn’t old enough to remember the original films, this was a perfect choice to make.  While the last film was entirely self-referential by design, this film shows how fun the Muppets can be when given a chance to just tell a story.

That’s not to say that the film is perfect.  In fact, it’s far from it.  As the story progresses, it eventually becomes pretty tiresome, eventually devolving into something far more generic than the Muppets should ever be.  The laughs keep on coming, but the narrative begins to overshadow the humor, and the story ends up wearing out it’s welcome.  By the time Muppets are pulling guns on each other, I was starting to check out.

As anybody reading this knows, Muppets Most Wanted tells the story of Constantine, the “world’s most dangerous frog,” who happens to look identical to Kermit (with the exception of a perfectly placed mole).  After escaping from a Russian gulag, Constantine frames Kermit, having him take Constantine’s place in the gulag, while Constantine takes Kermit’s place on the Muppets world tour.  Of course, the World Tour is just a setup for Constantine to pull off the heist of his career, stealing the Crown Jewels.

As Kermit settles into life in the gulag, even helping put together a musical review featuring hardened criminals such as Danny Trejo, Constantine easily transitions into the role of the Muppets leader by simply promising them anything they want.  Some of the film’s later drama (as dramatic as a Muppet movie can get anyway) comes from Kermit’s realization that most of the Muppets never even knew he was gone.  It’s a very kid-friendly plot, but it serves as an excellent framework to explore the relationships amongst the cast, especially Miss Piggy and Kermit, who happen to be struggling with the idea of marriage.

Like most of the Muppet movies, this one features a constant barrage of celebrity cameos, some hilarious and others completely missing the mark.  Part of the fun of these films is trying to identify all of these brief appearances, and there are definitely some great ones this time around.  Sure, they might date the movie a little down the road, but the cameos have been part of the Muppets charm from the beginning.  There are also terrific musical numbers by Bret McKenzie, serving both to advance the plot, as well as just to make the audience laugh.  The opening number is a highlight, detailing the nature of Hollywood’s obsession with sequels while showing the Muppets riffing on various ideas they could employ as a follow-up.  Not only is it a catchy song, but the constant barrage of jokes set the bar very high for the rest of the film.

With a human cast featuring Ty Burrell, Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey, it would be easy to expect greatness from the non-Muppet performers as well.  Of the three, Ricky Gervais fares the best as Constantine’s “Number Two.”  His deadpan humor fits this world perfectly, and he was a terrific addition to the film.  I wish I could say the same about Burrell and Fey.  As a huge fan of each of them, I was severely disappointed at how underutilized they each are.  Burrell gets some moments of terrific physical comedy involving his car, but beyond that, he is completely wasted.  The same goes for Fey, the head of the Russian gulag.  She’s fine in the role for what it is, but the script just doesn’t give her a whole lot to do.  Of every human in the movie, her role feels the most “phoned in.”

Now that the film is on Blu-Ray, I was eager to see what extras Disney put out.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any “making of” features, although I kind of expected there wouldn’t be as that could kill the magic of the film.  However, there are 3 cuts of the film.  There’s the theatrical version, along with the “Unnecessarily Extended Edition,” and the Statler & Waldorf cut.  I don’t want to give away the punchline, but I will say that it’s exactly what you’d expect.  It’s also very funny.

Video Clip: I’m Number 1, You’re Number 2

There’s also a pretty funny blooper reel that seemingly mixes actual bloopers from the humans, along with what appears to be improv bloopers from the Muppets.  As the Muppet performers never seem to break character, it’s a fascinating look at these characters as if they were real creatures.  Rounding out the extras are a music video for Constantine’s number, “I’ll Get You What You Want,” along with a short joke segment about Rizzo the Rat, who is barely in the film.

As expected, the movie looks and sounds great.  As a large portion of the plot concerns a World Tour, there are varied locations throughout that are captured beautifully.  I was particularly impressed with a sequence where Miss Piggy tours London, and I’m pretty sure they actually filmed her on location.  There are special effect sequences, action sequences, musical numbers, and a whole variety of visual experiences in the film, all gorgeous on Blu-Ray.

Overall, it’s a thoroughly entertaining movie, but I don’t believe it will hold up as well as the Muppet Movie.  I had a great time, but I was expecting more after the last one.  That movie was just so heartfelt and beautiful, there was really no way that this movie would have compared.  I’m just excited that the Gang is back making movies again.  This was a franchise in need of a new life, and Muppets Most Wanted proves that they’ve found it.

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