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Can Henson's Muppets still bring home the green?

Disney's "Muppets Most Wanted" opened on Friday, March 21, 2014 to a lukewarm audience reception. The film is the follow-up to Disney's "The Muppets" (2011) which breathed new life into the Jim Henson-created Muppets franchise. "Muppets Most Wanted" opens just minutes after the first film ended, getting off to a lighthearted start with a quirky musical number about Hollywood sequels. The film is jam-packed with adorable music numbers, celebrities and the all-around family fun for which the Muppets are known. After the surprise success of "The Muppets", can the sequel hold its own at the box office?

Facing an opening weekend at the box office that includes the new teenage franchise film from Summit/Lionsgate, "Divergent", "Muppets Most Wanted" closed out Sunday night with an estimated opening weekend of $17 million and a second place showing in the domestic box office. "Divergent" led the pack over the weekend with a $56 million haul over the weekend. 2011's "The Muppets" pulling in a worldwide gross of $165 million.

"Muppets Most Wanted" is the second film of the Disney-helmed reboot of the franchise and the eighth Muppets film overall. Loosely following some of the themes of 1981's "The Great Muppet Caper," as there is a European jewel theft and even a matching synchronized swimming scene in the new film, there are a few notable differences. These differences include the addition of comedy stars, such as Tina Fey as a Russian prison warden and Ricky Gervais as the Muppets' new tour manager, appropriately named Dominic Badguy (pronounced "Bad-gee"). Badguy is working with the world's most notorious jewel thief, Constantine, who just happens to look exactly like Kermit with a mole and a crazy Russian accent. Constantine sets Kermit up to take the fall for him, dropping the frog in a Siberian prison. Constantine assumes Kermit's place within the Muppets, performing and stealing jewels at every tour stop. Kermit fights to escape prison and Tina Fey's advances to find his way back to the Muppets and his beloved Miss Piggy.

With an estimated $50 million budget, "Muppets Most Wanted" relies heavily on the idea that audiences will flock into theaters because of the title characters. Audiences are encouraged to attend either for the nostalgia of seeing the Muppets on the big screen again or the plethora of Hollywood stars that appear in practically every scene of the film. In addition to Fey and Gervais, "Muppets Most Wanted" brings in entertainment industry favorites like Tom Hiddleston, Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Josh Groban, Rob Corddry and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs to round out the cast of characters. Though the film is chock full of funny bits and amusing musical numbers, it lacks some of the heart of the earlier movies. With an opening weekend in 4600 theaters and a gross of more than $10 million less than the debut weekend of "The Muppets", Kermit and friends may have a hard time catching much traction at the box office. If "Muppets Most Wanted" follows the pattern set by "The Muppets," the film will not be able to expect a high international gross, as while "The Muppets" performed well domestically, it pulled in a much smaller overseas box office haul. In order to catch up and become a box office success, making back its $50 million budget and then some, "Muppets Most Wanted" is going to have to do something more than display a quick clip of Tom Hiddleston in chains during previews to draw audiences into theaters.

"Muppets Most Wanted" is a silly, funny film. It knows its place in the franchise. The film is ready to deliver a light, entertaining experience for movie-goers that give it a chance to shine. It may not have the same heart as the previous Jim Henson films, but it does a great job of introducing his Muppet characters to a new generation of audiences. The film does not require anything but the attention of movie-goers to entertain. If it does manage to bring in a growing audience over the coming weeks, it could easily generate as much revenue for Disney as its predecessor. Though "Muppets Most Wanted" may not be a box office smash just yet, early estimates have it poised to make more than its budget, though just how much of a profit the film will make is yet to be determined. If the Muppets somehow manage to fail to perform at the box office as well as they do onscreen, "Muppets Most Wanted" may be the last that audiences see of Henson's beloved characters for a while.

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