THE latest offering in Disney’s lucratively rebooted musical franchise, Muppets Most Wanted literally builds on the success of its predecessor, with an opening shot featuring the Muppets in Hollywood on the set of 2011’s film, wondering what to do next.
The answer lies in their catchy first number, We’re Doing A Sequel, written by Flight of the Concord’s Bret McKenzie – but the self-referential lyrics (“We’re doing a sequel, that’s what we do in Hollywood, but everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good”) may contain a little too much truth.
With the Muppet Theatre happily secure, the gang are persuaded to take their show on the road by PR guru Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais).
Kermit’s (voiced by Steve Whitmire) initial protestations and sneaking suspicions of the tour are drowned out by the rest of the Muppets’ celebrations.
Badguy (“It’s French, pronounced Bad-JEE”, he explains) knows how to manipulate the group and he swiftly nudges the mild-mannered Kermit out of leadership.
A more nefarious purpose to the world tour emerges when Constantine (Matt Vogel), “the world’s most dangerous frog” – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit – escapes from a soviet gulag.
A quick identity swap later, and Constantine is happily ensconced within the Muppets, while Kermit is languishing in the gulag under the obsessive watch of Nadya (Tina Fey), with no way to let the rest of the Muppets know the danger they are in.
Throw in Lady Gaga, some art gallery heists, and a marriage to Ms Piggy, and it looks to be the guts of an entertaining trip.
But, while the film is heavy with star cameo performances – too many to name here, and some are so fleeting that you’ll probably miss them – it is noticeably light in human leads.
Constantine’s ropy Slavic impersonation of Kermit is over-relied upon as a means to carry much of the story and humour.
While falling back on classic body-swap scenarios remains funny for the most part, these scenes lack the human-Muppet chemistry found in the earlier film.
Ricky Gervais’s interactions with the Muppets feel more like Comic Relief sketches, and Tina Fey’s one-dimensional character leads to her scenes with Kermit in the gulag feeling somewhat repetitive and flat.
The closest the film comes to filling the Jason Segel-shaped hole is in the scenes with Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle (Eric Jacobson), as French and American detectives forced to work together on the case of Constantine.
The human connection is missing in more than one sense. The film seems to be lacking, not only in comparison to its predecessor, but in comparison to most other recent films aimed at children, due to its noticeably muted emotional undertones.
The Muppets may gain a new appreciation of Kermit, but there’s no grander message on display.
Muppets Most Wanted is a straightforward romp – a colourful comedy that is content to pluck on the musical strings, but not tug on the heart strings.
The result is enough to keep you just about entertained, but never really inspired.