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Muppets most excellent

Family-friendly, pretty savvy and funny too

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 22, 2014 06:00 am

LOOK ALIKE – The evil Constantine makes trouble in Muppets Most Wanted.
LOOK ALIKE – The evil Constantine makes trouble in Muppets Most Wanted.
Supplied photo

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Muppets Most Wanted
Stars: 3.5
Starring Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey and the voices/puppetry talents of Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel and Peter Linz
Directed by James Bobin
Written by James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller
Rated G for slapstick violence, plus infrequent mild profanity and mild crude humour
Runtime: 107 minutes
Now playing at Grandin Theatres, Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre

When we last saw Kermit and his fuzzy pals, they were all celebrating in the California streets outside of the Muppet Theatre. They had just saved it from demolition and had successfully reunited after years apart.

They had also just given a shot of energy into an increasingly dull franchise and most of that credit should have been given to Bret McKenzie.

“Who?” you might ask.

He is the songwriter behind Flight of the Conchords, a TV show about a New Zealand folk duo trying to make it in the United States.

His work is hilarious as all heck. I’m not familiar with the show but his work from The Muppets of 2011 stands out in my mind as a particular bit of genius, outrageously smart and brilliantly comedic. Because of him, Conchords has a Grammy. On his own, he has an Academy Award for his work on film three years ago.

Thank Gonzo that he returned to lend his talents to Muppets Most Wanted. While the movie stands as a testament to the lasting power of the family theatre troupe and its filmmakers’ extensive knowledge of cinematic tropes, I can’t help but have the song Man or Muppet still playing in my mind as the best thing that came out of that movie.

This film starts off precisely where we left our friends, still dancing in the streets. Their re-found popularity brings them to the attention of supposed promoter Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who claims that his last name is French and is pronounced “bad-geE” but we all know better.

He works for Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog who just escaped from Russian Gulag 38B. He’s a dead ringer for Kermit save for one pesky facial mole. A little bit of makeup on him and a glued-on prosthetic fake mole for Kermit and voila, suddenly our hero is on his way to Siberia while the dastardly villain is leading the Muppets on a European tour so that he and Badguy can go on a massive treasure hunt.

Yes, there are many opportunities for people to break into song and dance. The Muppets might be the stars but McKenzie is the proverbial puppetmaster here. Without him, there would still be an enjoyable film about crossed identities and international entertainers. Sooner or later, somebody would have made a movie about that. It’s the quirky, upbeat yet offbeat songs that really make this a Muppet show.

That being said, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Muppet sensibility and sense of humour. It’s family-friendly but with strong undertones of dark and mature subject matter. They live in a universe with an excellent film vocabulary.

There are also puns a-plenty and sight gags too. It’s all terribly clever.

Under the direction of James Bobin and with screenwriter Nicholas Stoller – both back from the Muppets’ 2011 comeback – there should be plenty to appeal to audiences of all ages.

The last one seemed funnier to me – I just didn’t laugh out loud as much this time around, but I smiled at a lot of the jokes and celebrity cameos that came all too fast and didn’t seem to last.

Hopefully the gang doesn’t fade back into obscurity after this. I peg them for another two or three modestly successful big screen adventures before they go back to TV movies of the week.

Muppets Most Wanted, while good, still ranks below their last outing and the original Muppet Movie of 1979. I would put it on par with The Great Muppet Caper though, the sequel to the original, so I guess the parallel makes a lot of sense.


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