“Muppets Most Wanted” is funnier than the last Muppets movie, with far better songs (by Bret McKenzie), punnier puns and all manner of geo-political gags, cultural wisecracks and star cameos.
Sure, you can take the kids. But will they get the Swedish Chef-in-a-remake-of-Ingmar Bergman-film-“The Seventh Seal” joke? Will they know who Celine Dion is, and why Miss Piggy wanting to sing a duet with her is funny?
And clocking in at a kid-patience-testing 1:52, you have to wonder whether Disney doesn’t realize, after the 2011 Muppet revival, that it’s making these films not for children but for the people who loved the TV show back when Liberace and Liza Minnelli were guest starring with Jim Henson & Co. Lady Gaga and Usher may need no 10-and-under introduction. But Salma Hayek, Josh Groban, Ray Liotta, Saoirse Ronan, Danny Trejo, ”Thor” villain Tom Hiddleston (in light red hair), Tony Bennett and Frank Langella? They’re going to give grown-ups a giggle.
Kermit and the Muppets have barely reunited as a group when a predatory manager (Ricky Gervais) lures them into a world tour with promises of sold-out shows and worldwide Muppet adoration. But the tour is basically a plot by Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced ‘Bad-gee.’ It’s French.”) to put a criminal mastermind and Kermit look-alike in charge of The Muppet Show.
Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” breaks out of a Russian gulag, covers his facial mole in green makeup and tries to twist his Russian accent into Kermit speech to make the switcheroo work. Somehow, almost everybody is fooled.
Constantine and Badguy schedule Muppet shows in Berlin, Madrid and Dublin in an effort to rob next-door museums.
Meanwhile, Kermit’s the one dragged back to the Gulag, where fellow inmates accept him as their murderous leader — sort of. And camp commandant Nadya (Tina Fey, terrific) puts him to work casting and planning the prison’s musical revue.
The production numbers are epic — from the “everybody knows a sequel is never quite as good” opener, to a Gervais duet with Constantine, Miss Piggy sharing a song with her idol Celine Dion and Fey’s ’60s girl group-style prison show stopper, “Big House.”
“Most Wanted” is amusing enough to make you think, “So what if the kids don’t dig it? Hire a sitter!”