Monday, April 7, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted. . .to Be BETTER

As a parent, I WANT to like family-friendly films.  Don't you? You're spending the equivalent of a week's worth of Happy Meals to sit for an hour and a half with strangers in seats you'd never want to see in sunlight.

If you're a mom, you know what I mean. You're in love with your DVR and Netflix because you can watch what you want when your kids have gone to bed or  - even better - gone to someone else's house.  Heaven is an internet connection and a remote with fresh batteries. You don't need a $15 popcorn/soda combo-for-1 in a megaplex to make you happy. You need 90 minutes to yourself to watch something that doesn't set off a snooze button inside your head.

Unfortunately, real life reminds us that kids don't want to see you in yesterday's tee shirt and yoga pants, holding a wine juice box while your tablet is paused on True Detective and one ear bud is dangling down your shoulder. 

(Hypothetically speaking.)

So, it's Saturday and you took the time to change out of your pajamas before noon to see the family-friendly feature, Muppets Most Wanted, the Disney-produced sequel to The Muppets (which brought Kermit & Miss Piggy back into the hearts of viewers in a big way.) Starring Jason Segal (who co-wrote the script) and Amy Adams - and featuring a number of clever cameos (including Jack Black & Jim Parsons) - the Muppets' return to screens in 2011 was a warm and witty welcome back into the world Jim Henson created. 

The sequel? A world tour that goes off-course. 

You want to believe Muppets Most Wanted will be great. I wanted to believe it, too. It had:

  • Two multi-talented comedians who've proven themselves as actors, awards show hosts, writers, and producers: Tina Fey (on more than one wish list to replace the retiring David Letterman on the Late Show) and Ricky Gervais (producer and star of Derek - returning for its second season on Netflix on May 30).  For parents struggling to enjoy recent family-friendly releases (*cough* The Lego Movie *cough*), the lead roles were a glimmer of hope that there would be a hint of humor that flew above our children's heads and seared into our psyche, while still maintaining the mood created by, well. . . 
  • Jim Henson's Muppets: You love them or you wouldn't have come. 
  • Cameos: That's part of the fun of a Muppets production. Who stopped by this time? There's a complete list & ranking of them here (SPOILER ALERT), but Danny Trejo ("He really WAS in prison!" my husband snickered) and Ray Liotta were memorable, as was the stunning Salma Hayek. Tom Hiddleston fans aren't forgotten, either.
  • Music: Bret McKenzie won an Oscar in 2011 for his original song, "Man or Muppet" - and performances of his work by Gervais & Fey (particularly Fey) are, in my opinion, the saving grace of this movie. 
  • Sounds good so far, right? I know. We're so close to having a great time, but the movie starts and we get a little song, a little dance - and a lot of foreshadowing about the detour we're about to take. Note reference to "half-decent plot":

Unfortunately, that witty introductory number tells you WHY bringing all of this talent together created little more than a cash cow dancing to box office receipts totaling $42 mil since its March opening. The $50 mil production budget may have been warranted, but it's not enough for me to sing praises about a movie without the heart we saw on screen and in the script in 2011. (Wherefore art thou, Jason Segal?) 

Younger children will likely enjoy this film as much as the original, but, for me, the story is what suffers. Fey and Gervais ARE talented performers, but the perspective in this picture is, much like characters they often portray: silly, sneaky, sarcastic and snide. The original didn't take us down that path, and we didn't need to travel the world through the eyes of Kermit's evil amphibian twin and his accomplice this time around. I laughed out loud and groaned - when I wasn't supposed to. It ain't easy being green - or lean on plot.

What I wanted was the Muppets. What I got? Left wanting more.

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