Ricky Gervais-Kermit-485
Photo by Jay Maidment - Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

I wanted to love this movie, but when it opened with a song called “We’re Doing a Sequel” I felt my body tense up. Meta-entertainment has its place, but too much self-awareness can be risky, especially with characters who are so lovable and sincere. Muppets Most Wanted reunites the team that made The Muppets in 2011 (minus actor-writer-producer Jason Segel), including director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller and songwriter Bret McKenzie, but the film never feels effortless or organic, and that’s the fundamental problem. Everyone is trying too hard.

In best Muppet show-biz tradition, the movie winds up being a backstage yarn about the troupe going on a world tour, planned by sleazy manager Ricky Gervais—except that Kermit has been replaced by an evil Russian lookalike, the world’s most dangerous frog. The setting shifts from one major European capitol to another, to minimal effect. Ty Burrell shows up as a Clouseau-like French inspector, while Tina Fey is the warden of a gulag in Russia where poor Kermit is imprisoned (along with such unlikely inmates as Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo). There are many songs along the way, but none of them has staying power and at least one, a duet by Miss Piggy and Céline Dion, has you wondering if it’s supposed to be taken seriously…or not.

Photo by Mark Fellman - Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Is the picture still likable? Of course; we’re talking about Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and other old favorites (along with Walter, the newest member of the troupe who was introduced in the 2011 movie). Are the many celebrity guest-star cameos fun? Some of them are, while others seem arbitrary at best.

Even an unexceptional Muppet movie is better than none, and it’s good to see these wonderful characters back on the big screen. But if we’re being honest, they deserve a better vehicle than this.