"Muppets Most Wanted" is out movie theaters as of today and it picks up right where The Muppets left off, as in immediately from the end of the last film. But it didn't leave the tweens with whom I saw it oohing and ahhing at all. While the group I was with certainly didn't hate it, we didn't love it, either.
The Muppets decide it's time for a sequel and Kermit and the group sign with Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) for a world tour. The tour gets a rocky start in Europe at the same time Constantine, the world's most dangerous frog who looks exactly like Kermit but with a mole, escapes from a Siberian gulag. Kermit is mistaken for Constantine and shipped off to the gulag, run by Nadya (Tina Fey), and the movie alternates between the gulag and the mayhem of the tour.
I took my 11 year-old tween and her 12-year old friend to see the movie, and we met up with friends there, a mom and her eight year-old twins. We had the tween gamut covered.
When asked to rank "Muppets Most Wanted" on a scale of one to 10, the four tweens, three girls and a boy, all rated it either a 6 or 7.
The mom with whom I saw it said, "There was more adult humor than I expected. It was an adult movie, but it was funny. I was dying at [part at the end that we won't give away.]" She also said that the movie was very clever, which is definitely was.
The cameos of popular stars for adults, double level humor and cleverness are all hallmarks of the Muppets of old.
But there was something missing.
While there was a fair amount of mad cap, screwball humor and some definite chuckles, there wasn't a scene that cracked up everyone in the theater at the same time. That makes me sad, because I love it when everyone in a movie theater simultaneously erupts in laughter, and I didn't get it this afternoon.
"Muppets Most Wanted" lacked that element of universal joy.
That said, I knew it was about Kermit being in the gulag, so really, what could I reasonably expect? Still, it leaves me, a big Muppets fan, disappointed.
The movie's songs were also let downs. My tween and her friend said that they liked the music in film. A few hours later, they could only name one of the songs. I couldn't do much better. The songs were pleasant enough, but not memorable.
It felt like the movie relied a lot on the guest stars and while they were amusing, there were a lot of them, perhaps too many. Usher was a big hit with the four tweens because they knew him from The Voice. Many of the cameos were people with whom they were completely unfamiliar and the spots left them cold, leading the two older tween to say that the movie was rather boring at times.
That said, the actors who were actual characters were good. Fey was endearing and Ty Burrell was one of my favorites. His character offers a lovely send up of Europe and plays expertly off of Sam the Eagle.
The movie also included nods to James Bond films and crime capers. In my experience, not a lot of tweens and younger kids are into those, yet another reason this movie didn't connect with them. If your tween knows and loves that genre, then this movie may just be a hit. Younger kids, though, may find it a bit much. One eight year-old found the movie a bit scary in parts, although another eight year-old disagreed.
It seems like a lot in this movie just depends on your kid and I guess that was the problem - it just didn't have the universal appeal of the Muppets of old or even 2011's "The Muppets." There was no "Life's a Happy Song" moment full of heart and soul in this one.
My group was not sorry that we'd seen it, but they agreed that it doesn't come anywhere close to being as good as Frozen or Star Wars, their favorite films at the moment.
"Muppets Most Wanted" is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for "some mild action."
Running time: 106 minutes.
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