Directly (and I mean DIRECTLY) after the first film has ended, Kermit The Frog and company realize that the cameras are still rolling. This can only mean one thing; the studio has ordered up a sequel. This kicks off the first (and best) of the new songs written for this sequel to 2011's 'The Muppets', entitled "We're Doing A Sequel", in which our favorite felt covered band of misfits sing about the studio requirements and pitfalls of following up a successful first entry in a viable franchise. It's a hilarious song, filled with the kind of high energy spirits and celebrity cameos (Tony Bennett with..Lady Gaga??) that put the Muppets on the map to begin with. Sadly, the movie is rarely better than these first five minutes. But that doesn't mean that the movie is not a delightful, fast paced and hilarious follow up to a splendid first film which helped introduce the Muppets to a whole new generation of fans.
Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog (a Kermit doppelganger, with a black mole being the only mark separating the two) has just escaped from a heavily guarded Gulag in Siberia. His plan? Switch places with Kermit the Frog and assume leadership of The Muppets as they embark on a world tour and use said tour as a cover to steal several items which will lead to the grand theft of the Crown Jewels of England. With help from his number two (Ricky Gervais) who's also masquerading as the Muppets tour manager to assist his boss, and with the real Kermit, mistaken for Constantine, locked away in the Gulag (headed by a very Russian Tina Fey), he just might pull it off.
'The Muppets' (2011) was a giant love letter to all things Muppets. This sequel feels much more like a traditional Muppet adventure somewhere along the lines of 'The Great Muppet Caper'. This is not a mark against the film, mind you. Just don't expect to be wiping the tears away as the cast sings “Rainbow Connection”, this is not that type of Muppet film (though, “Together Again” from 1983's 'The Muppets Take Manhattan' is revived in a fun way). Also, people who felt that the previous Muppet film took awhile to get moving due to reintroducing several main characters will be delighted by the fact that this film hits the ground running and rarely comes up for air.
The cast is more than able as well. Jason Segal and Amy Adams don't return (indeed, they couldn't even be roped into a cameo for the hilarious opening scene), but stepping in as main cast members for this entry are the aforementioned Gervais and Fey, as well as a very well cast Ty Burrell as an Inspector Clouseau-esque Interpol agent who teams up with CIA agent Sam The Eagle to track Constantine's moves. They're banter provides some of the films best laughs, and their “Interrogation Song” runs a close second to the best song in the film. About the music. While the songs in the first film had mostly hits (“Life's A Happy Song” is an instant classic) and a couple of misses (“Me Party” should have been left on the cutting room floor), there's hardly a miss in this follow up. “We're Doing A Sequel” sets the bar high early, but Constantine & Gervais' “I'm Number One, You're Number Two” number is very effective and funny, and an all Spanish rendition of “The Muppet Show Theme” ends up being a lot funnier than I initially thought it would be. It's a great song list, and I was very pleased with the results.
Muppet films are also known for their celebrity cameos. And this movie throws so many at you, that by the end it may become a bit tiring. Some work (a hidden voice in Gulag solitary pays off at the end), others are almost groan worthy (an aisle “Usher” at a wedding is portrayed by, guess who...). But we're also treated to appearances by P'Diddy, Frank Langella, Tom Hiddleston, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, Christophe Waltz, Chloe Grace Moretz and a few I wouldn't dream of ruining. There's also extended cameos by Ray Liotta, Jermaine Clement, and the always awesome Danny Trejo.
As for the Muppets themselves, they're as funny and heartfelt (get it?) as ever. They don't all always get a chance to shine (there's a great throwaway bit about how new Muppet Walter was introduced with an entire movie at the expense of several tried and true Muppet favorites), but through and through, they're still the same Muppets we grew up with (I still get a kick out of Scooter calling Kermit “Chief”). Gonzo's still weird, Piggy still wants Kermit to put a ring on it, Fozzie's jokes still invite groans, Beaker is still abused at the hands of Bunsen's inventions, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are forever stuck in the 1960's. They may come off as a bit two dimensional, but, they're the Muppets, we'd probably be disappointed if they DID change in some dramatic way.
'Muppets Most Wanted' is not as good as 'The Muppets'. It's almost on par, but I felt the last film had a bit more heart than this one. But, then again, that appeared to be the point of the last film. It played on our nostalgia and love of these characters, whereas this film seemed to want to throw us into a fast paced romp. There's nothing wrong with that, mind you, and as I said, the songs are improved from the last one. But, I still missed the heart. Here's hoping that, if Disney sees fit to grant the Muppets a third film in this Muppet renaissance, that they find a way to balance both heart and song the whole way through.