Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No Strings Attached: “Muppets Most Wanted”

Movie Review by Jack Silbert
When I saw the recent trailer for Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it broke my heart just a little. The original segments on Jay Ward’s 1960s Bullwinkle TV show were so smart, so clever. And here we were in 2014 with fart and butt jokes, and worst of all, what appeared to be yet another run-of-the-mill lowest common denominator kids’ movie.

No such concerns with Muppets Most Wanted. The 2011 series re-boot (oh god how I hate that word) was true to the original: sweet and funny and non-pandering and equally appealing to children and parents. And with most of the creative team back for the sequel, they have succeeded once again.

Ricky Gervais as Badguy with the gang.
If anything, the previous Muppets film leaned too much on humans, with its Jason Segel/Amy Adams subplot (though Segel was terrific). This time around, the Muppets run the show, with real people only around for comedic flavoring—and adult appeal. Ricky Gervais is solid as a second-in-command bad guy named Dominic Badguy. Tina Fey is quite charming as Nadya the gulag warden. (Her well-cast humorous prisoners include Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, and Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords.) Ty Burrell is amusing enough as an Interpol agent; kids likely won’t realize that he’s doing a poor imitation of Steve Martin’s take on Inspector Clouseau.

There are also several fun cameos that I won’t spoil here, except that many kids will enjoy spotting Ross Lynch from Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally.

The best character, though, is Constantine, Kermit’s evil lookalike. I think kids will get a real kick out of him—I know I did. His Russian-accented bad attempts to impersonate our favorite frog had me laughing out loud.

Tina Fey as Nadya.
Director and co-writer James Bobin (also a Flight of the Conchords alum) keeps the action easy-to-follow for kids, and the laughs come at a steady pace (with several “in-jokes” for us older folks). There are some very strong and rather funny musical numbers, once again composed by Bret McKenzie of, yes, Flight of the Conchords.

The movie drags a bit in the middle, but I don’t think kids will notice too much. And things do pick up later for a very satisfying conclusion. Because this is a children’s movie, we do get a lesson spelled out for us at the end, but it’s an important one: Don’t forget to tell the good people in your life that you appreciate them. I appreciate that the Muppets appear to be in very capable hands—figuratively and literally.

MINI-REVIEW: Party Central
More bang for your multiplex buck, as Muppets Most Wanted is preceded by a new Monsters University short, Party Central. (Disney owns Monsters Inc., the Muppets franchise, and… well… everything.) Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) return in a slight comic adventure, a mini-Revenge of the Nerds for the little ones. Except the feature-length Monsters University was also a Revenge of the Nerds for the little ones but had a lot more going for it. Still, kids will be happy to see Mike, Sulley, and the Oozma Kappa gang, there is fast-paced action, cool animation, and enough silly laughs, and then you get your feature presentation. Party on, monsters.

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