The Muppets live up to the title in this adorable follow-up that is even truer to the essence of Muppetry than the Jason Segal predecessor because it puts the Muppets themselves at the heart of the story, not the humans. And that’s very good news. No one is better than the Muppets at creating a giddy mixture of sharp wit, delirious silliness, pop culture references (here they range from Ingmar Bergman’s scythe-bearing Death chess match to a “Producers”-inspired prison gang kick-line) and random guest stars (Lady Gaga! Tony Bennett! Together!), and a self-deprecating but irrepressibly sunny sensibility. There is always grand spectacle, romance, and heart, even a brief but telling lesson in manners. Plus, there’s another tuneful and hilarious collection of songs from Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie. The result is pure joy.
It starts about one minute after the last movie ends. The human couple is clearly on the road to happily ever after, but what about the Muppets? Time for a sequel! “While they wait for Tom Hanks to Make ‘Toy Story 4,'” they sing, even though “everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” They also blithely explain that we can expect “a family-style adventure during which we should bond and learn heartwarming lessons like sharing and taking your turn and the Number 3.”
The Muppets hire Dominic Badguy (“pronounced Bad-GEE”) (Ricky Gervais) as their new tour manager and go to Europe to perform. He actually is a bad GUY, however, and the tour is just a cover for an elaborate series of heists, conveniently located next door to the venues selected by Dominic. Meanwhile, Constantine, the most dangerous frog in the world, escapes from the Siberian gulag where he has been in prison. And he looks almost exactly like Kermit, except for a distinctive beauty mark on his cheek. Constantine slaps a fake birthmark onto Kermit’s cheek, covers his own with green make-up, and soon Kermit is captured (vainly trying to explain that he’s an “Amphibian-American”) and sent to the gulag.
And Constantine is running the Muppet Show. Even though he speaks with a thick accent and has a completely different personality, none of the Muppets notices the switch, especially when he tells them they can do whatever they want. Miss Piggy does not realize that her beloved frog has been replaced.
Meanwhile, the hard core prisoners in the gulag (including Ray Liotta and a mystery guest star in solitary) figure out immediately that Kermit is not Constantine because he says “thank you.” Even Nadya (Tina Fey), who runs the prison, knows it is not Constantine. But her fondest dream is a first-class gulag musical show. She won’t let Kermit leave because she needs him to direct it. And she knows every possible trick the prisoners might try to sneak out. She explains, “I have a Netflix account with the search words ‘prison escape.'” Also, she likes him. So, soon Kermit is overseeing a prison kick-line to a song from “A Chorus Line” (the guy in solitary has a great set of pipes). And Constantine is getting ready for the biggest heist of all: the British royal family’s crown jewels, though — wait for it — “It’s not easy being mean.”
On the path of the master thieves are a pair of non-master detectives, Jean Pierre Napoleon from Interpol (Ty Burell, through no fault of his own the movie’s only weak point) and Sam the Eagle from the FBI. Their competition over the size of their badges is rather fun, but then their appearances descend into repeated and increasingly flat jokes about Napoleon’s tiny car and constant breaks for meals and vacations. But then we have the classic shots of newspapers to bring us up to date: “Slow News Week; Muppets Dominate Headlines” and we’re back in Muppet heaven.
Note: Be sure to get to the theater in time. There’s an adorable “Monsters University” short before the feature starts.
Parents should know that there is some bad behavior, a very brief scary skeleton and mild peril. Scenes in the gulag play dire prison conditions and treatment for comedy.
Family discussion: How could Nadya, Fozzie, and Walter tell the difference between Kermit and Constantine? Why didn’t anyone else figure out what was going on? Why did Constantine let the Muppets do whatever they wanted?
If you like this, try: The Muppet Show and their feature films