When The Muppets returned to the big screen in 2011, thanks to fanboy Jason Segel who co-wrote the story and starred in the movie, everyone was refreshingly surprised by how endearing and enduring their brand of humor had remained. Kermit The Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and all the other recognizable figures for longtime Muppets fans were introduced to a new generation through a big hearted story of The Muppets taking their old theater back when an oil tycoon wants to raze it to the ground. The music hit the right notes, Walter was a great addition to the motley muppets ensemble and the cameos were delightful.
Muppets Most Wanted tries to cash in on the magic (there is a delightfully meta and self referential start to the movie as The Muppets sing about how they made a sequel and take generous digs at themselves) by trying to pack in a bigger backdrop, a more outrageous story and a ton of cameos. And while there is plenty to smile along with as The Muppets are duped into a world tour (well, mostly Europe) by the shifty tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais, not really given enough space to express himself) so that his boss Constantine can replace his lookalike Kermit and perpetrate a jewel heist with The Muppet Show as cover, a lot of it feels too rushed and hastily put together.
In the midst of countless cameos (Christoph Waltz and Usher only appear to pun their names, there is Frank Langela, Tom Hiddleston, Sean 'Puff Daddy' Combs and even Lady Gaga), a gimmick which overstays its welcome, Kermit is mistaken for Constantine and taken to a Siberian Gulag where the warden Nadia (Tina Fey, underutilized) refuses to let him go as the rest hop all over Europe in a template too familiar in Hollywood (remember Euro Trip?). Meanwhile an unlikely duo of an Interpol Officer (Ty Burrell, of modern family's Phil Dunphy fame pitches in a delightful performance as Frenchman Jean Pierre Napoleon with shades of Steve Martin as Jacques Closeau) and a CIA officer, The Eagle tail them to capture the mastermind behind the heists.
Of course, there are the usual lessons about friendship and love without being too preachy; there even are hidden previous Muppets references that fans will spot and love. But grand as Muppets Most Wanted's backdrop is and audacious as Constantine's heist plans are, the end product sorely misses the heart of the earlier movie and nowhere is it more evident than in the songs which are decidedly pedestrian (read, less fun) bar the opening number and one in the Gulag. The jokes are mostly clean as has been their trademark and Muppets Most Wanted is good family fare, but it does stretch a tad too long at almost two hours.
The good news is though that it is not a complete waste of your time. The laughs that come are worth it. Because, whatever they can or cannot do, with The Muppets, a smile on your face is never too far away.