BY IRENE KARRAS
One upon a time, long, long ago, there were no 24/7 children’s programming channels. Aside from a couple of hours on weekday mornings on PBS or CBC, “family” programming was relegated to Sunday evenings, and a big part of that glorious block was the variety show The Muppets. Puppets for the kids, inside jokes and celebrities for the grown-ups. The franchise also resulted in several movies produced from the 70s through the 90s.
My kids hated all those movies.
So, in 2011 when the “new” Muppets movie came out, I was super excited, hoping a modernization would bring them on board and give them an appreciation for old-fashioned puppetry in a 3D, computer-animated kids-movie landscape. And it did. That film had heart in a compelling coming-of-age story about finding your place in the world. And the human leads were so likeable and sweet and it was funny and touching and the songs were awesome and I felt vindicated that they loved it as much as I did.
So I had high hopes for the sequel, taking my 2 boys, 6 and 9.
The sequel opens right after the last movie ends and for a second, there’s the hope that Amy Adams and Jason Segel will be back. But alas, we never find out what happened to them as the Muppets are approached by nefarious stage manager Dominic Badguy, played by Ricky Gervais (or “the grumpy man from Night at the Museum” according to the 6YO). He wants to take the Muppets on a world tour as a front to cover various museum heists driven by the nefarious Constantine, the world’s leading criminal mastermind and a dead-ringer for Kermit, minus a mole. Antics ensue, resulting in Kermit getting sent to a Siberian Gulag while Constantine takes his place with the Muppets.
This is around the time the 6 YO fell asleep in the theatre.
The film has its good: Ty Burrell is refreshing and charming as the French Interpol agent; the songs are still pretty catchy (though not one is still in my head the way “Man or Muppet?” was); the reveal of the prisoner in isolation at the Gulag will amuse the grownups (but the kids won’t have any idea who he is); Gervais is funny and brings a justifiably indignant tone to his usual snark; Tina Fey is lovely as Nadya, the Kermit-enraptured, Broadway-loving Gulag warden who is also a bit of a den-mother to her inmates; and it’s fun to see traditional tough guys like Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo dancing ballet-style.
But there are weaknesses, too: you never really forget that you’re watching Gervais and Fey; though some cameos are fun and integrated well into the story line (Usher, Staney Tucci, Christopher Waltz, Salma Hayek) others just seem gratuitous and distract from the story (Lady Gaga, Sean Combs, Zach Galafinakis). The boys were thrilled to see Family Channel favorite Ross Lynch, but most of the other celebrities were beyond their cultural context. Though the film was set in various international locales, the continual mocking of the French workday, vacation time and environmentally-friendly-but-inferior modes of transportation in favour of subliminal American propaganda regarding “real cars” and “real work” grated after a while.
To be fair, we are warned in the first couple of minutes by song that this is a sequel and the sequel is never as good as the first. Clever meta reference or lazy storytelling? I’m still not sure.
And that’s mainly why I can’t give this movie more than an average rating. Though it had its clever and fun moments, much of it went for the lazy gag/celebrity appearance. It’s not horrible by any means, but it is forgettable.
Irene Karras is a Calgary-based communications consultant and freelance writer with a fondness for 1950s Greek melodramas, 1980s coming of age movies, weird Canadian films, and, by necessity, PG movies. She blogs at misplacedmysassy.wordpress.com and tweets @irene_karras.