Muppets Most Wanted, the 12th movie adventure featuring the world’s favorite puppets, relies on our affection for these characters rather than create a compelling narrative that shows their best features. This over-ambitious plot gives us an entertaining film that just misses the mark; the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

The opening musical number of Muppets Most Wanted highlights everything that can go wrong with a movie sequel, from the search for a story to the rush to production to the temptation to rely on audience good will for the earlier film. While this latest adventure of our favorite puppets avoids some of the pitfalls put to song, the reliable Kermit and Miss Piggy look a bit overwhelmed by the cumbersome plot of this latest installment.

From their first screen appearance in The Muppet Movie in 1979, the Muppets have basked in the simplicity of their films. These characters, so human yet so made of cloth, don’t need a conventional story to reveal their charms. Miss Piggy only needs to toss her artificial locks as the diva she wants to convey, swoon over Kermit as the mate she hopes to land, and look for her name in lights as the star she intends to become. No matter what reel situations these characters may find themselves in, they warm our hearts simply by being themselves, with little need for the trappings that define other film franchises.

The creators of this latest installment, however, overwhelm our puppet pals with a complex plot filled with intrigue and espionage, and a bevy of characters designed to showcase performers in cameo roles, to make the felt-based creatures relevant in a computer-generated world. Picking up where the previous outing, The Muppets, left off, the new film immediately jumps into a new storyline with a new villain (Ricky Gervais), a new complication (an evil Kermit trading places with the one we know) and a new challenge (how to spring the actual Kermit from a prison in Siberia). Along the way the characters stop to sing, offer sight gags and try to connect with audiences. There’s something for everyone, from the dry humor of Tina Fey as a prison guard to the musical comedy parody of a showstopper from A Chorus Line to an over-extended duet with Celine Dion and Miss Piggy.

Unfortunately, the movie feels more like a collection of potential moments than a connected series of consistent sequences. Instead of using each moment to tell a story, the filmmakers constantly reach for one more gag to fill the reel, including odd cameo appearances by such performers as Christoph Walz and Salma Hayek. Only Ty Burrell — as a bumbling French policeman who offers a funny look at French customs — and Ray Liotta — as a dancing prisoner — seem to grasp the potential for lunacy. We don’t mind stopping the story for their moments because their moments complement the story. But the ever-entertaining Muppets don’t need this much plot to give their characters life.

What ultimately appeals about these films are the relationships between the puppets. More than 50 years ago, when Jim Henson first brought these characters to the small screen, they grabbed our hearts with their endearing views of the world and themselves. No matter how artificial their fabric may be (or, today, how digital their forms may be) they touch us with their appreciation for the simple joys that characters can share. We don’t go to the Muppets for complex plots. We welcome them into our hearts because of what is special without the trappings.

 

Film Nutritional Value

Muppets Most Wanted

* Content: Medium. A more-complex-than-necessary narrative almost swallows the fundamental fun of these fabric characters we have enjoyed for decades.

* Entertainment: Medium. At its best, the movie simply settles on the endearing relationships between its characters, and their joy in performing. But those moments are overwhelmed by the new film’s complicated narrative.

* Message: Low. In years past, the Muppets have symbolized the fundamental value of believing in the best of what situations offer. That gets lost here.

* Relevance: Low. While the filmmakers use many efforts to try to make the film feel current, much of that storytelling feels forced.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. While Muppets Most Wanted reminds us of why we enjoy these characters, the original Muppet Movie or the classic The Great Muppet Caper are more satisfying movie adventures.

 

(Muppets Most Wanted is rated for PG for “mild action.” The film runs 107 minutes.)

3 Popcorn Buckets