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.