The Muppets are constant and comforting. The voice actors may shift over time, necessitating a bit of readjustment for your ears (I’ve grown accustomed to new Kermit and new Miss Piggy, new Sam The Eagle not as much), but their essential Muppetness remain the same. Fozzie will tell bad jokes; Animal will growl and shout; Piggy will embody all the world’s narcissism. And this, at least, must never change.
This review should probably come with a disclaimer of sorts. I’m fully in the tank for the Muppets and have been, I guess, since Sesame Street debuted on PBS when I was five years old. From that point, through The Muppet Show and each theatrical feature that came in its wake, I’ve been on their team. I don’t know that I ever need to see A Muppet Christmas Carol again, but, in general, I’m of the opinion that even a misfire Muppet movie is preferable to no Muppet movie. Critical objectivity is almost always a fake-out, but here, especially, I'm the subjectiviest person alive.
This is not a misfire. Not even close. It’s just not going to provide the thrill of long-awaited reunion that arrived with 2011’s Jason Segel-powered The Muppets. As with its closest cousin, 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, this installment finds them delivering an absurd crime story, competently and hilariously, in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed, shot through with silliness.
It turns out that Kermit has a Russian doppelganger named Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” who’s in league with the criminally minded Dominic Badguy. Together they trick the Muppets into hiring Badguy as their tour manager, kidnap Kermit and send him off to a Siberian prison run by Tina Fey (one housing inmates played by Ray Liotta and Flight of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement, plus Danny Trejo as “Danny Trejo”). As the Muppets tour Europe, Badguy and Constantine commit heists while the gang is distracted by their own increasingly, chaotic, lengthy and self-indulgent show. Only French Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and FBI agent Sam The Eagle are on the case, that is when they’re not busy with an ongoing badge size contest.
But you’re not really here for plot details or caper suspense; Muppetisms are the draw – goofy songs, terrible puns, ridiculous slapstick, Piggy karate and the endless parade of celebrity cameos. Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Sean Combs, Salma Hayek, Tom Hiddleston, Usher – as an usher – and the two dozen other well-known faces (including Celine Dion, who needs some kind of MVP award for this) seem grateful for the chance to show up, say their sentence, and move out of Animal’s way.
It doesn’t need to reinvent any wheels and it doesn’t try. It needs to supply self-referential laughs, cozy familiarity and that unique Muppet ability to be warm-hearted witty all at once. That’s what we all want and that’s what they deliver. They can come around any time they like.