' Cinema Romantico: The Muppets Most Wanted

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Muppets Most Wanted

Now that I know a movie about the Muppets is essentially considered a "kid's movie." And I know that if you espouse negativity about a "kid's movie" or level a genuine criticism at a "kid's movie" in regards to its execution or intention that all sorts of angry Internet commenters will swoop in with indignant recitations of the standby remark: "It's just a kid's movie." This, of course, is the nephew of the ancient standby "It's just a movie" (*sounds of Nick throwing up*). And having established all of this as a means to open my review of "Muppets Most Wanted", Nicholas Stoller's sequel of the reboot of the original "Muppets" movies, I have to ask: do The Muppets have a dependency problem?


The film is driven by a Kermit doppelgänger named Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog, like Vincent Cassel in a Kermit costume (and come to think of it, the role might have worked better if it just had been Vincent Cassel pretending to be Kermit), who in a display of "Matrix"-ish movements busts out of a Siberian gulag and gets Kermit locked up in his place as a means to infiltrate The Muppets to use them as a cover to steal the Crown Jewels of England. Now obviously he's not Kermit and obviously The Muppets somehow can't tell in spite of that obviousness, but that's not the point. The point is The Muppets spend the whole film essentially sitting around and twiddling their thumbs and letting fake Kermit and his cohort, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), tell them what to do. They're not puppets, they're ignoramuses.

The Muppets were always endearingly out of sorts but they were never utterly hapless. Yes, Kermit got amnesia and disappeared in "The Muppets Take Manhattan" causing his cohorts to panic, but his cohorts also nutted up and went out and found him. In "The Muppets Most Wanted", Miss Piggy, the storied diva who worked at Vogue Paris in the 2011 film and had Emily freaking Blunt as her secretary, is like a John Wayne approved housewife. Remember when she karate kicked a mugger? WHERE DID THAT PIG GO?!

But this Kermit addiction gets worse. It gets worse because Nadya (Tina Fey, best in movie), who runs the Russian gulag as if it were the Plaza Hotel of hellscapes, harbors a secret obsession with everyone's favorite frog. And once she finds out the prisoner under her eternal watch is Kermit and not Constantine, she forces him to be in charge of the prison's annual talent show. And Kermit, dedicated professional that he is, complies, if reluctantly, and manages to wring something approach flair out of fellow inmates like Ray Liotta who appears to have so much fun I wish someone would cast him at once as Commander William Harbison. These scenes in the wintry stockade are the film's finest, energetic and emanating that can-do, put-on-a-show vibe so integral to Jim Henson's creation. You believe in the conviction of these convicts more than you do the Muppets, and that's a problem.

Re-writing movies is not the task of the film critic, of course, as those omnipresent "this is how you write movie reviews" watchdogs on Twitter can kindly advise forcibly command, but nevertheless. I yearned for a different movie. I yearned for a movie where the Muppets got tired of this imposter Kermit and locked him in his dressing room and proved they could put on a show all by themselves. And I yearned for a movie where Kermit, ever dutibound to those in his charge, remained in the gulag simply to finish putting on the show he started.

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