Monday, March 31, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted



I hadn't really planned on writing about this movie. I absolutely loved it, and just kind of assumed everyone else did too. A 1000+ word story about how much everybody in the whole world enjoyed something in exactly the same way I did doesn't sound like gripping material to me. But I got one of the songs stuck in my head, and to get it out of there I Googled it for another listen. Imagine my surprise when the first hit was a negative review. Go ahead and imagine, I'll wait. After I got over this initial surprise I stopped in on IMDB, and was even more surprised to discover that there were actually a bunch of negative reviews. Some of them pretty scathing. Upon reading a few of them I became indignant, and the result of that indignation is now here for your reading pleasure. I'm here to provide counterpoint to those reviews, and to tell you why this is a great movie.


I, like probably many of you, grew up with the Muppets. I watched the show, the movies, and whined until my parents bought me the toys. I think there was a lunchbox in there somewhere too...you get the point. I still love the first movie. Great songs, jokes that hold up and occasionally need to be quoted to this day, and some fantastic celebrity cameos. Just like the show the people were only there as supporting players to the stars of the show. Occasionally they stole the show (why did Steve Martin decide he needed to be taken seriously? I liked him so much better with an arrow through his head as a banjo song and dance man), but the Muppets were always the focus. In the first movie people were only around to play bad guys, do a few jokes, or help move the plot forward in some brief way. They took their time introducing the characters and getting the group together because the movie was always first and foremost about them. The Great Muppet Caper was still pretty good, but not anywhere near as good as the first. The songs weren't as memorable and the people had much larger roles. Parts of it were still great, but overall it just wasn't as strong. Then in The Muppets Take Manhattan we had a lot more human story, and way too much more Miss Piggy being annoying. I'll put up with the whole Kermit and Piggy love story because that's pretty much always been a thing. Having never liked Miss Piggy though I'm admittedly biased. What I really don't want in a Muppet movie is a human love story. Who cares about these obnoxious people? I want more chickens and whatever Gonzo is. And is it strange that I am now thinking about all of the cross species romance happening in the Muppets? Probably, but I'm doing it anyway.


Anyhoo, the point is that I don't like too many humans stealing the spotlight from the dancing pieces of felt. And that was my main problem with 2011's The Muppets. I know Jason Segal had a lot to do with getting this movie made, and I appreciate all of the singing/dancing, writing, and producing that he put into it. But seriously. Am I the only one who has stopped finding his oafish antics charming? Ten years ago it was fine, but it's kind of worn thin for me. What I don't appreciate is him and Amy Adams and a new piece of felt named Walter hogging all the screen time. Sure, Chris Cooper rapping was brilliant, but where the hell was Gonzo? He, and many of the other Muppet stars, get little better than cameos. I like the majority of the Muppets too well to have them relegated to a “getting the band back together” montage.



And this is why I liked Muppets Most Wanted. It was entirely about the Muppets. The humans stuck to their place in supporting roles, and the dancing pieces of felt took center stage again. One of the negative reviews I read called the celebrity cameos “blink and you'll miss 'em”. Well I blunked plenty (I know that's not the correct past tense plural for blink, but I like it, so deal with it) and I saw Ray Liotta just fine. In fact I saw Ray Liotta do several musical numbers with Jermaine Clement and Danny Trejo, and it was awesome. The basic premise is: immediately at the end of the last movie the Muppets realize that the fact that the cameras are still rolling must mean that they're doing a sequel. Cue meta Muppet musical montage (I just love alliteration). They decide to do a world tour helped along with their new manager Dominic Budguy (Ricky Gervais) who is actually a thief called The Lemur who is in league with Constantine: the world's most dangerous frog. Constantine also happens to look lust like Kermit except for a facial mole so with the help of some glue and a little practice with accents he sends Kermit to the Russian gulag he escaped from while he takes over as leader of the Muppets. It all sounds a little complicated put into one run on sentence, but I promise it sort of kind of makes sense while you're watching. Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell (sorry Modern Family fans, but he'll always be Steve from Dawn of the Dead to me) are CIA and Interpol agents trying to track them down, while Tina Fey is Kermit's guard/unrequited love interest. The soundtrack, which was one of the standout points of the last movie, is even better this time thanks to an inspired job by the hilarious Bret McKenzie. The songs were good in The Muppets, but this time they're even more memorable and catchy. I've had I'll Get You Want in my head ever since I saw it, hence the Googling. It really was like watching Muppets sing an episode of Flight of the Conchords. The fact that Jermaine Clement had a supporting role didn't hurt either. Hilarity and mishaps ensue as they always do, but eventually everything turns out the way it should in a Muppet movie. Cue the big musical finish, and I left the theater completely happy with my Muppet experience this time around. It also helps that I saw this on a weeknight in a theater that serves alcohol rather than a Sunday matinee in a regular theater like the last movie. But I don't know that the venue had that much to do with it. No amount of wine could have made me laugh at a joke about Usher being an usher at a wedding if it wasn't well placed.In no other movie could I have ignored a Miss Piggy/Celine Dion duet the way I did here. 

 

Some of the reviews I read said that this movie felt rushed and thrown together, even slapdash. I walked out of The Muppets thinking that it was Jason Segal's love letter to the Muppet franchise. I left The Muppets Most Wanted thinking how happy I was that the Muppets got the movie I felt like they deserved. It was about them, and not the people. It had plenty of good songs, cameos, and jokes. It had Danny Trejo. There isn't much more than that I could ask from any movie, much less a Muppet movie. “Goodnight Danny Trejo”.



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