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All-star cast can’t save ‘Muppets’ sequel

POSTED: March 20, 2014 1:00 a.m.

“The Muppets” became a surprise hit in 2011 and rescued America’s favorite puppet franchise from the brink of obscurity. 

Now, Kermit and the gang are back for more frivolity in “Muppets Most Wanted.” Everything is great, everything is grand, right?

If we were on “The Muppet Show,” this is when one of Gonzo’s stunts would backfire, signaling things are about to go very wrong.

“Muppets Most Wanted” is average at best, despite having everything working in its favor. 

The Muppets are once again a well-known brand among kids — we parents never forgot them in the first place — and sequels usually make more than first films.

Dr. Honeydew reminds us in the film’s opening number this is the seventh Muppets sequel, but “The Muppets” was essentially a reboot since it was the first Muppets movie in 12 years.

Nearly the entire crew from “The Muppets” returned for the sequel, including the director (James Bobin), one of the screenwriters (Nicholas Stoller), the composer (Christophe Beck, who wrote those great songs from “Frozen”), as well as Bret McKenzie, who wrote the most memorable songs from the previous movie.

And as usual, they’ve drawn a star-studded supporting cast. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell all play major roles, while Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo play against type in smaller roles.

This should all add up to a great movie but does not. The jokes aren’t funny often enough. Not one song is memorable. And the trademark meta-commentary works against the movie, because “Muppets Most Wanted” criticizes itself far too accurately. 

The opening sequence captures much of what goes wrong. The story picks up just moments after the last movie ended. The big dance number in the street is over, and it’s time for everyone to leave the set. We see the Amy Adams and Jason Segel characters from “The Muppets” standing with their backs to us as Muppets walk away. Only, it’s obviously not Adams and Segel, but rather anonymous stand-ins. 

It’s a brief but emblematic moment: everything in this movie is an inferior facsimile of what worked in “The Muppets.”

Then the opening number is set to a song called “We’re Doing A Sequel,” all about how the gang is forced to drum up a decent idea because the studio wanted a sequel. And that’s exactly what the filmmakers did. They drummed up a decent, but not very good, idea and cranked out a sequel.

The Muppets movies rarely innovate, but the franchise works because of its razor wit and irrepressible energy. Sadly, both are missing for much of “Muppets Most Wanted.”

But as much as some of us love the Muppets — and for the record I am a big fan — the 2011 movie might have made us forget that most of their movies just aren’t very good. Nor do they make much money. 

According to boxofficemojo.com, “The Muppets Movie” (1979) is the only franchise entry to achieve what Hollywood considers good earnings. If ticket prices are adjusted for inflation, it grossed more than $216 million domestically.

Despite seeming like a big hit, the 2011 movie only earned $94 million domestically and $165 million worldwide. Those numbers are paltry — Fozzie would say “poultry” — compared to other recent family movies considered moderate successes. It is on par with the remake of “Flubber,” which earned almost $93 million in unadjusted, 1997 dollars.

All the Muppets movies that followed the original earned significantly less, until 1999 when “Muppets From Space” earned just $27 million. It became the reason no other Muppets movies were made for 12 years.

Box office revenue doesn’t tell us much about a movie’s quality, but it is the best gauge of audience interest. And these numbers do not bode well for this or any future Muppets movies.

“The Muppets” was one of the funniest movies of 2011 and brought the Muppets back into the pop culture consciousness. But with “Muppets Most Wanted,” the franchise returns to the mediocrity that has marked most of its movies.

Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.


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