A Great Muppet Caper? by Tyler Smith
James Bobin’s Muppets Most Wanted is a lot of fun. There are some really enjoyable musical numbers, winking celebrity cameos, and some pretty solid jokes. It features Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and all the rest of our favorite Muppet characters. It has a story that is every bit as outlandish- yet notably meta- as any of the other Muppet films. Indeed, you could have a much, much worse time at the movies.
And yet, somehow, I walked away feeling a little empty. Certainly, I had enjoyed myself, but not in the way that I’ve grown accustomed to with the Muppets. Jim Henson’s iconic characters were certainly silly, but there was always a heart to the proceedings. There was a simple charm to the Muppets that often seemed intangible, but was completely understood, even to children. We felt safe, like we were among friends. And, with the constant breaking of the fourth wall, it genuinely felt like we were invited to be a part of the fun.
Some of this leaked into The Muppets, Bobin’s first foray into this world, but a lot of that could have been nostalgia. By deliberately referencing the films we all grew up with, Bobin borrowed some of the goodwill created by their makers. Nonetheless, it felt good to see these characters again, and I had a warm feeling when the film was over.
With Muppets Most Wanted, however, everybody involved seems to understand all the elements of what makes for a good Muppet movie, while never quite putting them together in the way that is most satisfying. Each of these elements is enjoyable when taken separately, but only to a point. At the end of the film, we should be able to survey everything that we’ve just seen and appreciate it as a whole product. Sadly, the film never quite gels together, and I can’t even really point to why.
Perhaps it is because the filmmakers are simply trying to replicate what made those earlier films work, rather than try to arrive at that place on their own. It’s like the difference between The Simpsons in 1994 compared to The Simpsons in 2014. All the ingredients are still there, and they are all quality, but there is a difference between something coming together organically and something coming together because it is expected to. Muppets Most Wanted feels like a film that exists in its current form more as a function of what the audience expects than what the filmmakers want.
Maybe the writers thought that the audience expected another Great Muppet Caper. Like Muppets Most Wanted, that film was the second entry in the series, only a couple of years after The Muppet Movie. It featured intrigue and a frame-up. In both films, the naivete of the Muppets is exploited by con men and thieves, only to eventually win the day through ingenuity and persistence, singing catchy songs as they go. Not only did the second in the most recent series of Muppet movies not need to be this, but it also invites comparison to The Great Muppet Caper, which is to its detriment.
All of this aside, though, the film still works on a certain level. It’s entertaining, and that’s what it strives to be. It’s not entertaining in the same way as the earlier Muppet films, but perhaps that’s okay. Perhaps, what with the slate of sub-par family films out there, a movie that at least has the ambition to be fun for all ages, as well as wholesome and soulful, should be championed. It may not be as good as those films it tries so badly to emulate, but nobody said it had to be. The bigger question is whether or not it’s better than the other movies available now. And, based on that criteria, Muppets Most Wanted is well worth seeing.