Though the “balcony hecklers,” Statler and Waldorf are on duty in Muppets Most Wanted, they may have been rendered unnecessary by the change in tone this franchise has taken since its 2011 reboot.
Put simply, the Muppets are now so meta, they heckle themselves.
Indeed, the movie opens mere seconds after the last one ends, with two songs – They’ve Ordered a Sequel and We’re Doing a Sequel – on the subjects of not knowing what to do next, and how sequels are never as good anyway.
Whether that’s true here depends on whether you’re an adult or a child.
Under the reins of British director James Bobin (Da Ali G Show), Kermit and Company have been tilted more toward the adult audience that fell in love with them on TV in the first place, back when people named Jim Henson and Frank Oz were in charge.
And we’re not just talking about the un-childlike length of nearly two hours (I saw more than a few restless kids at the screening I was at). I doubt even a majority of adults will “get” the Bergman reference where the Swedish Chef is seen playing chess with Death. But those that do should find it hilarious.
And since I can only review with an adult’s eyes, I can say there’s a lot for big kids like me to chew on comedically in this Muppet tale – a combination caper film and Russian gulag prison movie. Credit the token humans – Ricky Gervais as the Muppets’ new, crooked manager Dominic Badguy, Tina Fey as a frog-smitten Siberian prison warden and Ty Burrell doing a reasonable Clouseau impression as the bumbling inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon.
The plot involves Badguy convincing Kermit and Company to go on a world tour. Said tour is actually a diversion for a series of heists Badguy is planning with his accomplice, the evil Russian frog Constantine (who looks like Kermit with a mole on his nose). Completing the scheme, Kermit himself is deposited in the very gulag Constantine escaped from (whose un-Russian-looking inmates are played by the likes of Danny Trejo and Ray Liotta).
Meanwhile, the bloviating politician-bird Sam the Eagle teams up with Napoleon to try to solve the Muppet-related crime spree (probably the most screen-time Sam has had in all of Muppet history put together).
There are plenty more cameos (I’ll only mention one memorable one – a duet ‘twixt Miss Piggy and Celine Dion). And there’s a fantasy scene, about what Miss Piggy and Kermit’s offspring would look like, that’s just a little bit weird (although to my ears, it was a children’s favourite).
There are movie references going back to Busby Berkeley musicals, sandwiched between wordplay-based gags and even references to the original Muppet Show itself (the stage show is essentially the TV show on tour).
Basically, Muppets Most Wanted hits all the buttons for old Muppet fans.
As for young Muppet fans, their mileage may vary.