Muppets Most Wanted review: that’ll do, frog

MaryAnn’s quick take: Kermit the Frog takes on his biggest challenge yet: dual roles. And truly puts the villain in vaudevillian.
I’m “biast” (pro): love love love the Muppets like my own family
I’m “biast” (con): bite your tongue
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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In the annals of Hollywood, no puppet has seen more success on the big screen than Kermit the Frog, though many have tried. Punch was unable to make the transition from street theater to the silver screen in the 1920s, and the arrival of sound was said to have taken the heart out of his squeal, for it could not be adequately reproduced with the early technology of the time. Senator Charlie McCarthy, after he moved from show biz to politics, unjustly cut short many promising careers in the 1950s with his anti-puppet Felt List. Lamb Chop was already hitting the mint sauce hard just as her career as the token babe in Sinatra’s Rat Pack was about to take off in 1963’s Hogget, Don’t Hog It. Alf’s tragic end barely bears thinking about. And while many extol the talents of Yoda, just as many detractors would complain that he always plays the same character: a brilliant actor he may be, but a narrow range he has.

But now, here, Kermit the Frog — TV legend, bestselling author, recording artist, movie star of the movie-starriest order — takes on his biggest challenge yet: dual roles. For in Muppets Most Wanted, Kermit not only returns to his beloved signature character of the seemingly hapless but actually quite effective and charming leader of a traveling troupe of variety performers, but also daringly takes on the role of the film’s antagonist as well. Chillingly, the script — by director James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller, both returning from the Muppets’ recent previous big-screen outing — does not reveal why Constantine is considered “the world’s most dangerous frog,” but the fact that, as the film opens, he is imprisoned in a remote Russian gulag — lorded over by a terrifying warden (Tina Fey: Admission, Megamind) — and affects an ingenious escape from it is indication enough of his dastardliness.

And Kermit! My god, Kermit the Frog, with barely an evil twist to his facial expressions that is more like some external manipulation rather than anything one mortal amphibian should be able to pull off (at least not without, perhaps, some prosthetic assistance), is completely transformed from sweet, harried theatrical producer to criminal mastermind. I cannot even begin to comprehend the digital trickery that was required to create the few scenes in which Kermit-the-character and Constantine appear together. All I can say is: thank God for movies like Gravity pushing the frontiers of what FX can do so that Kermit-the-actor could play against himself.

You will be astonished. Indeed, Kermit-the-actor truly puts the villain in vaudevillian, as the script calls for Constantine to replace Kermit-the-character among his band of merry performers, the Muppets, so that he, Constantine, and his second in command, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais: Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, The Invention of Lying) — pronounced “Badge-ee” (it’s French) — can pull off some of the greatest heists Europe has ever seen under cover of a Muppet Continental tour, all the while chased by a crack team of Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell: Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Incredible Hulk) and CIA agent Sam Eagle.

Difficult though it may make the job of prose styling for a film critic when a movie star is portraying a character of the same name as well as another character entirely, metatextural commentary on filmic conceits and the Ouroboran nature of pop culture has always been a part of the ingenious anarchy of the Muppets. And the dual duality of Kermit both onscreen and between screen and audience isn’t even the beginning. The beginning is the end of 2011’s The Muppets, which is the beginning of Muppets Most Wanted: when the cameras fail to stop shooting, the Muppets realize this means they’re doing a sequel, and launch right into it. The compression of spacetime required for this surely demanded an application of advanced quantum cinematics. But the Statler-and-Waldorfian flair is found right in the first song of this new film (for of course it is once again a musical). Chipper yet instantly forgettable — as are all the songs in Most Wanted, as if daring the viewer not to buy the soundtrack to remind oneself of them — “We’re Doing a Sequel” contains the provocative lyric “Everybody knows the sequel is never quite as good.”

And thus, in that Muppetationally silly way that is all anyone is truly looking for in a Muppet movie, the primary criticism that may be leveled against Most Wanted is acknowledged and dismissed with high kicks, glitter, dancing, and amusingly demented blink-and-you-miss-’em celebrity cameos. And all is right with the world.


see also:
The Muppets review: are we not men? we are weirdoes

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LaSargenta
LaSargenta
Wed, Mar 19, 2014 7:53pm

One Question: Do Statler & Waldorf have screen time?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Wed, Mar 19, 2014 8:09pm

Of course!

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Mar 19, 2014 8:37pm

*happydance*

Bluejay
Bluejay
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 1:23am

Remote Russian gulag? Terrifying Russian warden? Evil Russian frog? Enough with the stale Russian bad-guy stereotypes, already! The Cold War is over, people! We’re in a bright new era of East-West relations! The Russians love their children too!

Oh, and I finally fixed the glitch in my NY Times subscription. Did I miss anything?

Paul Wartenberg
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 2:35am

Maybe if they filmed along the calming, peaceful coastal waterways of the Crimea…

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 12:02pm

And had a rainbow flag in every scene…

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  LaSargenta
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 12:15pm

Rainbow flags make me think of this:

http://youtu.be/-HAS52TWUjM

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 12:29pm

:-D

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  LaSargenta
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 12:46pm

I have a feeling Putin doesn’t want any Russian citizens to find the rainbow connection.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 2:49pm
Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 3:32pm

Ya think? :)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 10:48am

Fey is not actually terrifying, for whatever that’s worth. :->

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 12:40pm

I think there’s a plane missing somewhere…or is that a video game?

RogerBW
RogerBW
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 2:49pm

But does it counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor?

Martin
Martin
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 7:08pm

THROW HIM OFF THE SHIP!!!!

CB
CB
Sat, Mar 22, 2014 7:48pm

“I cannot even begin to comprehend the digital trickery that was required
to create the few scenes in which Kermit-the-character and Constantine
appear together.”

There wouldn’t happen to be any scenes where they’re both on camera and there’s an obvious split down the screen, is there? That would be awesome.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  CB
Sun, Mar 23, 2014 11:14am

That would have been hilarious. But no.

Bluejay
Bluejay
Sun, Apr 13, 2014 4:49pm

I enjoyed this. Loved the Ty Burrell/Sam the Eagle partnership, loved the Spanish version of the Muppet Show opening, loved Constantine. He got all the best songs!

I initially thought (and was impressed that) Kermit’s puppeteer, Steve Whitmire, performed Constantine as well. But it turns out that Constantine is performed by Matt Vogel, who currently plays the Count on Sesame Street (and now I can hear the vocal similarities between Constantine and the Count). Still equally impressed!

It’s not a perfect film; I felt it was a little too forced and scripted at times, and lacked the looseness and apparent spontaneity that I remember from the Henson-era Muppets. Piggy was a Smurfette and didn’t really have much to do besides play damsel-in-distress. But it was at least a forward-looking adventure, rather than the “let’s all remember growing up with the Muppets” nostalgia-fest that the first film was (which was enjoyable on its own terms).

I think I’ll always be a little sad that it’s not Jim Henson’s and Frank Oz’s Muppets anymore, but I guess there’s nothing to be done about that. Creating fun new characters like Constantine is a breath of fresh air, and I think they should keep going in that direction.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Mon, Apr 14, 2014 6:13am

I liked it, too, though not as much as the previous Muppet movie. The first two songs were great and it was nice to see Ricky Gervais as a villain for a change and not as a romantic lead. Some bits toward the end were predictable, but for a movie with so many bad reviews, it was surprisingly entertaining.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Mon, Apr 14, 2014 12:22pm

The first two songs were great

Just the first two? :-) I think Constantine’s “I’ll Get You What You Want” comes a little further along in the film, and it’s Grade-A Bret McKenzie.

Though I admit I prefer it when McKenzie himself sings the full version.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Bluejay
Fri, Apr 18, 2014 1:40am

Well, a lot of the other tunes are good, too, but the first two are my favorites. Of course, considering how eclectic and eccentric my tastes in music can be, you might not consider that a compliment, but still…