I found Muppets Most Wanted only mildly disappointing because I didn’t have very high expectations for it in the first place. There are spoilers below.
I don’t regret going — KC and I laughed a bit, and it’s always good to see the beloved characters again. But perhaps my biggest let-down was that the puppetry isn’t as good as it used to be. When I first saw The Muppet Movie, there was such wonder in how transparently these bits of cloth were moved. They seemed like their own living beings, as perhaps best exemplified by the bike-riding scene. There were times in Muppets Most Wanted that the puppets looked like objects, where the movement was jerky or limited, as though the moviemakers took shortcuts just to get the film done. Particularly bad was an action sequence with the frog supposedly karate-kicking his way through a room — it just looked like someone throwing the puppet around.
You’ve likely already heard the plot: Evil master villain Constantine, who looks just like Kermit with a mole, takes his place and sends him off to a Russian gulag. Now, leaving aside that they already did evil Muppet doppelgangers in the previous film The Muppets, I had huge problems with this plot.
For one thing, there’s too much Constantine and his sidekick, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). There are so many wonderful Muppet characters that we barely see — beyond the few main characters, the only one given anything significant to do is Sam the American Eagle, but more on him later. I resented all the screen time spent on this villain, particularly such a one-note one. (Just as an idea, it would have been so much funnier if a human had been cast to look “just like Kermit”. The characters, since they’re portrayed as too stupid to realize the substitution, could still have been shown as not noticing, but the contrast would have been more amusing for the audience.)
Along those lines, the puppet cast are broken up into separate groups, which loses one of the major sources of appeal, seeing the ensemble work together and play off each other. Additionally, compared to the previous film, the theme here, about the importance of one’s friends as adopted family, is shallow and repetitive. The Muppets dealt with, in addition to “getting the band back together”, nostalgia and belonging and wondering if you still had it and whether it was worth struggling for an ideal.
Given the international crime theme, I couldn’t help comparing Muppets Most Wanted, the second of the new movies, to The Great Muppet Caper, the second original film. (I doubt I’m the only one. There’s a brief water ballet musical number in this movie that seems to exist only because there was one in Caper.) The new one comes off worse. Caper treated the Muppets as actors playing new roles. Piggy wanted a fashion career. Kermit and Fozzie were journalists. That allowed for more depth to the characters. In this film, they’re all limited to being entertainers, each with their one-note hook — Fozzie’s jokes are bad, Gonzo is a daredevil, Miss Piggy hits on Kermit (even when he’s not himself).
So many Muppets, so little for some of them to do
Speaking of which, the gag about women (Miss Piggy) wanting to get married while men (Kermit) try to dodge the trap was ancient 30 years ago. Seeing it here as a substantial plot device was unpleasant. Even more so was when we’re supposed to applaud Kermit declaring her “my woman”. I cringed. Anyway, Sam was the only one playing other than “himself” — and it allowed for some of the most entertaining scenes, as he played off Ty Burrell as a very French Interpol officer. I doubt kids get jokes about Europeans taking paid eight-week vacations, but I laughed.
Weirdest of all is that Muppets Most Wanted itself calls out some of these plot problems, only to ignore them. At one point, Kermit gets legitimately upset that his dearest friends couldn’t tell he was missing for days. Another character agrees with him, but then it’s right back to a caper and a musical number. A friend said he thought this had been dumbed down for kids, and maybe that’s so. Or maybe it’s just that Disney wants the Muppets to be a long-running franchise for them, and so they took the safe approach wherever possible.
Muppets sing and dance, in an opening number that warns us “sequels aren’t as good”
Lest I be accused of being too negative, the songs and sketches were good. (They made me wish, if the Muppets were to be nothing but entertainers, we could go back to just watching them put on a show.) There are some funny jokes, although you’ve seen most of them in the trailer. It was neat to see the classic TV show opening again. I liked the cameos, although I didn’t recognize several of them, since they’re stars to the younger Disney crowd (or Europeans, since the movie was made in England and appears to be aiming for international sales with its Germain, Spanish, and other settings). However, the “waltz with Christoph Waltz” was classic Muppet humor.