Muppets Most Wanted began its development life under the working title The Muppets...Again. While it's probably for the best that they landed where they did title-wise, the movie does kind of feel like that's all it is. The Muppets. Again. By itself, that's hardly a bad thing, but coming on the heels of 2011's The Muppets, a franchise restart explicitly built on the idea that the late Jim Henson's immortal troupe of puppet players are more than just a part of our cultural wallpaper, I'll admit that it does feel like a slight (only a slight) step down.
Picking up right where the "The End" sign in the previous film left off, with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, et al. having successfully reunited at the urging of Muppet superfan Walter, Muppets Most Wanted brings back director James Bobin (and Walter too). However, co-writer and co-star Jason Segal, who almost singlehandedly saved the franchise from the brink of obsolescence last time, chose to sit this sequel out, leaving Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell to ably fill out the most prominent human roles, with most of the heavy-lifting accorded to the various creatures populating Henson's Muppet menagerie.
Embarking on a world tour at the urging of Gervais's Dominic Badguy (nothing suspicious there, it's French), the Muppets soon find themselves embroiled in international intrigue when the dastardly Constantine, the most evil frog in the world (and a dead ringer for Kermit, natch), escapes from a Siberian Gulag with designs on plundering Europe's antiquities. Soon enough, a mistaken identity switcheroo lands Kermit in prison under the guard of Gulag officer Nadya (Fey, rocking a Boris-and-Natasha accent), while Constantine uses the Muppets' performances as cover for a transnational crime spree, with Burrell's Clouseau-esque Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon on the case.
There's a calming quaintness about these Muppet flicks (this is the eighth since 1979) that gives them a broad, cross-generational appeal. It's pretty tough to criticize something that stands as such a stubborn testament to the simple, tactile power of felt and fur to draw in and retain our interest and emotional investment. No 3D. No IMAX. No CGI (okay, maybe a little CGI). Instead, we're happy to tag along as we watch these beloved characters go through their prescribed, low-tech paces, tossing off groan-inducing puns and one-liners while still making time for the occasional celebrity cameo (there's a bunch!) and/or musical number (there's a few too many!).
That's been the way of these movies for as long as I can remember, and it's nice enough just to see that proud tradition continue even with the brand fully subsumed into the Disney library. As such, I suppose you can forgive some of the movie's failings. Sure, not all of the jokes land like they could. Yeah, some of the songs aren't quite as catchy as the previous film. And granted, the plot does threaten to fall in on itself by the time we get to the Tower of London-set climax, with real Kermit racing to stop Miss Piggy's nuptials with fake Kermit. But does it really matter? Not really. This is the Muppets. Again. And that's probably enough. B