The Muppets go on a European tour in “Muppets Most Wanted” but from the looks of things other than a few stock shots they never wander far from Burbank. Which fits perfectly with this ‘60s-stye caper film starring the world’s most famous puppets.
Locales looks more or less like contemporary Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London but the bad guy uses a pay phone and typewriters occupy desks. Parents may have to patiently explain to youngsters what those weird machines are.
It’s all good fun with surprisingly bright songs for the Muppets and their human co-stars, more than enough laughs and only a slight tendency toward repetition in gags and storyline.
The Muppets themselves take care of any such quibbles right up front when they sing and dance a musical number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” that confesses, “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.”
Whether this follow-up to their amusing 2011 feature, Disney’s reboot of the late Jim Henson’s 1970s-‘80s era films, is as good or not won’t matter much to fans. Certainly the franchise remains in fine shape.
The Muppets share their scenes nicely with Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey not to mention the usual onslaught of cameos from the likes of Danny Trejo, Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, Sean Combs, Ray Liotta and others.
The filmmakers have a somewhat distorted sense of ethnicity as it places Christoph Waltz, an Austrian actor, in Germany (he speaks German, doesn’t he?), and Salma Hayek, a Mexican actress, in Spain (she speaks Spanish, doesn’t she?).
It’s also unclear whether Dion is fully aware of how much she’s being kidded. Then again she probably does and fully approves.
The story, a mere excuse for gags, songs, dances and Muppet mirth, has conniving, villainous manager Dominic (Gervais) plot a Muppets European tour where he can switch Kermit the Frog for his evil twin, a Russian criminal mastermind named Constantine.
This enables the duo to rob a series of museums situated directly next to concert venues. Strangely — indeed very strangely — none of the Muppets notices the substitution despite Constantine’s thick Russian accent and willingness to marry Miss Piggy, something the real commitment-phobe frog would never do.
Kermit ends up in a Siberian prison camp, Gulag 38B, in Constantine’s stead where he comes under the jurisdiction of Fey’s Broadway-obsessed camp commander. This paves the way for some truly hilarious, Mel Brooks-ian musical numbers featuring fearsome looking prisoners stepping lively.
The involvement in a Muppet movie of both Gervais and Fey also answers the long-asked question of what becomes of Golden Globes hosts when they bomb.
Everyone is in fine form including English director James Bobin, returning and co-writing with the first installment’s co-writer Nicholas Stoller. The sequel’s strong suits are the musical numbers, a breezy love for absurdity and running gags.
Among the latter include those involving Burrell as a Clouseau-flavored Interpol inspector who, being French, continually takes work breaks, meal breaks and vacations instead of doing his job.
Fun is had with language when the Berlin venue advertises “Die Muppets” and the fellows look at the sign and wonder if they’re the victim of early reviews.
That one may fly over the heads of most youngsters.
Opens: March 21, 2014 (Walt Disney Studios)
Production company: Mandeville Films
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz
Director: James Bobin
Screenwriters: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller
Producers: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Executive producers: John G. Scotti, Nicholas Stoller
Director of photography: Don Burgess
Production designer: Eve Stewart
Music: Christophe Beck
Costume designer: Rahel Afiley
Editor: James Thomas
PG rating, 106 minutes