The new movie has lots of color, great songs, clever cameos, very savvy scripting and skillfully timed direction going for it. But there’s still something missing. A jewel heist story was already done back in the ‘70s. Muppet movies seem to work better when they satirize show business, advertising or some other ripe-for-ridiculousness institution. Granted, the stakes are much higher here than they might have been in The Great Muppet Caper. Both films even have an Esther Williams-swimming cavalcade scene, though it was more lavish in Caper.
That wouldn’t matter so much if Ricky Gervais was either a supporting character than the co-star, was given more comedy to do, or was left to improvise so he would have been as funny as he is in the outtakes. Gervais is a great comic star, but not a movie star. Nor does he have the widespread appeal to justify how much screen time his character gets. This is in no way a criticism of him nor his talent, just a comment about how he might have been better utilized.
Ty Burrell, who gets just the right amount of screen time, making one want to see more, delivers his customary screen stealing performance—perfectly teamed with Sam the Eagle. Yes, his character is a Clouseau type, but he could easily play Clouseau. Nobody does determined cluelessness like Burrell. Tina Fey also takes on a tasty comic character role as the head of a Siberian prison, with convict show tunes (and incongruous cameos) worthy of Mel Brooks.
Like the last film, the songs are perfect for The Muppets and have a quality on their own that justifies more attention than they get. It was a shame that singer/songwriter Bret McKenzie did not get an appearance on the Academy Awards telecast, since that would have deservedly raised his profile. At least he is showcased to advantage is a music video with Miss Piggy (Bret looks a little like a bearded, lanky Herb Alpert).
Muppets Most Wanted is very good, yet not quite great. There’s a lot here to love, though, especially seeing the old gang (as well as welcome newcomer Walter) doing whatever it takes to get them on screen. Even on the classic Muppet Show, some episodes were better than others but it didn’t matter because The Muppets were the main raison D’être to tune in (ain’t I continental?).
Bonus Features are fine (but no commentary, sigh). There’s a blooper reel with a funny title about it being the longest ever, maybe. Again, Ricky Gervais is funnier here than he is in the movie. I realize he was playing a villain (Mr. Badguy), but they might have added in some of his infectious laughter.