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Songs make the middling mirth of "Muppets Most Wanted" worthwhile

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Muppets Most Wanted

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Muppets Most Wanted” brings the mirth-making Muppets back to the big-screen, following the mega-success of their 2011 reboot, “The Muppets.” Although the magic isn’t quite as potent as last time, the Muppets still retain their charm, gift for corny humor, and superb songmanship.

British director James Bobin returns from the last film along with co-writer of “The Muppets” Nick Stoller. Also, returning is Oscar-winning songwriter, Bret McKenzie (from HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), who won the Academy Award in 2012 for the show-stopping comedic song, “Man or Muppet.”

Once titled, “The Muppets...Again” until Disney retitled it to emphasize its “comedy caper” nature, “Muppets Most Wanted” begins immediately after the ending sequence from their last film. As our favorite Henson pals find themselves unexpectedly lingering on screen, they rapidly realize that they are participating in a sequel, prompting the toe-tapping opening number, “We’re Doing a Sequel.”

Kermit (voiced by Steve Whitmire) and the gang decide to follow the advice of a not-so-trustworthy manager, Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Bad-gee” and played by Ricky Gervais) and launch a world Muppet tour. Unfortunately, Badguy is in a secret alliance with Kermit’s evil, Eastern-European sounding döppleganger, Constantine (voiced by Matt Vogel), who appears remarkably identical to our friendly amphibian, except for a dark facial mole. Constantine and his “Number Two” (Badguy) have hatched a plan to have the “world’s most dangerous frog” switch places with innocent Kermit in order to steal the Crown Jewels.

As such, Constantine uses his super street-fighting skills to break out of a Siberian Gulag, finds Badguy, and slaps a glued-on mole onto an unsuspecting Kermit. Kermit is soon misidentified by the authorities as escapee Constantine and sent to the Russian Gulag, where he comes across stern prison matron, Nadya (played to the cheesy hilt by Tina Fey), and numerous hardened criminals played by Jemaine Clement (songwriter McKenzie’s other half from “Conchords”), Danny Trejo (“Machete”), and Ray Liotta (who seems to be making family film appearances a hobby, having appeared in CGI in “A Bee Movie” and in person in “Muppets From Space”).

Oddly-voiced Constantine is largely accepted by the Muppets gang as Kermit. The former Gulag resident even wins over Miss Piggy’s affections with the standout song of the sequel (which totally won over my 6-year-old), "I’ll Get You What You Want.” But, meanwhile, as their multinational tour continues, the Muppets soon become suspects in a trail of crimes that seem to follow them. CIA agent Sam the Eagle (voiced by Eric Jacobson) and Interpol officer Jean Pierre Napoleon (the fantastic Ty Burrell of “Modern Family”) seek to find out who is behind the major thefts.

As is the case with any Muppet film, star cameos abound (including Lady Gaga, Tom Hiddleston, Céline Dion, Stanley Tucci among so many others), bad puns are a-plenty, and one-liners are abundant. The film, though, is missing the heart and nostalgia that Jason Segel and Amy Adams brought to their prior outing. The Muppets seem best, historically, when they can play off heartfelt human co-stars, and unfortunately, Gervais and Fey are little more than fun, “cartoonish” figures in the film.

As such, “Muppets Most Wanted” is affected by a so-so script (that may drag, at times, especially for its littlest fans) and by material we’ve seen before (the film seems to borrow elements from their last European adventure in 1981’s “The Great Muppet Caper”). The Muppets are still funny but are not as fully fresh as last time. But, thankfully, the film’s entertainment value is heavily bolstered by the frequent appearances of songs by McKenzie, who doesn’t disappoint. Each musical number is a gem, a respite in a sea of middling kids’ comedy, and each is worth the price of admission.

While “Muppets Most Wanted” is not the ideal sequel Muppets’ fans really wanted, it’s reasonable weekend entertainment for the family with stuck-in-your head melodies and musical numbers that will pleasantly linger as your family hums its way home. “Muppets Most Wanted” is rated 3 + of 5 stars.

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