- - Thursday, March 20, 2014

It’s comforting to know that even in these turbulent times of head-spinningly fast change, some things remain the same: the excitement of March Madness, the taste of Coca-Cola, and the complicated romance between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.

The characters created by Jim Henson in 1955 might have gotten a theatrical reboot with 2011’s “The Muppets,” but director James Bobin and his crew wisely didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. They introduced a new Muppet — Walter — but also kept the lovable personalities of the rest much the same, making for a film that appeals to nostalgic parents and their young children.

That formula — respectful references to the 1970s television series that was the Muppets’ zenith, with updated antics for those who weren’t yet born then — hasn’t changed with Mr. Bobin’s follow-up “Muppets Most Wanted.”

The sequel is predictable, of course, but that’s part of what makes it so charming. Kermit is reluctant to marry Miss Piggy, Animal is a little too crazy, Gonzo is naively enthusiastic about his dangerous performance ideas — all is right with the world.

Jason Segel, cowriter and star of the 2011 film, and co-star Amy Adams are gone, but the plot follows on that of “The Muppets.” The newly reunited group is persuaded to launch an ambitious world tour by their new manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Kermit does pause when he looks at Dominic’s business card before hiring him, but the Brit reassures him: His last name is pronounced “bad-ghee,” and it’s French for “good man.”

If Kermit, the group’s leader, wasn’t suspicious then, he should have been at Dominic’s next move: Opening the tour in Berlin, which the manager calls “the world capital of comedy.”

But Kermit doesn’t get much time to question Dominic. The world’s most evil frog, Constantine, is a dead ringer for the green-skinned Muppet, and just escaped from a “maximum security gulag in Siberia, Russia.” (One wonders if there are any minimum security gulags.)

Dominic, unsurprisingly, is Constantine’s No. 2, and he soon manages the ol’ switcheroo: Kermit is sent to Siberia, and Constantine joins the Muppets. (His Russian accent is explained away as a bad cold.) And the strange itinerary of the tour is soon explained: The nasty Russian has his sights set on the West’s crown jewels, literally.

Who would have guessed a Muppets movie would be the timeliest thing in theaters?

Before he was kidnapped, Miss Piggy finally proposed to Kermit, who wasn’t quite sure he was ready to accept — but Constantine is perfectly happy to marry someone who could become a key witness against him. Amid all the plotting are the usual fun and games.

Mr. Bobin helped create the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords,” and the two band members return to make the movie a musical. Bret McKenzie’s original songs are clever and catchy, though none of them quite so hummable as the original “Muppets” theme. And Jemaine Clement sings as one of the inmates of the Siberian gulag. He’s joined by Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo.

There, though, it’s Tina Fey who shines, as the tough-as-nails warden. But there are plenty of cameos to watch out for, including James McAvoy as a UPS driver with a brogue, a saintly Frank Langella, and a very un-“Downton Abbey”-like Hugh Bonneville. Even Celine Dion shows up — after the characters in the movie have subtly made fun of her.

Zach Galifianakis, popcorn in hand, declares the nuptials of Miss Piggy and Kermit (really, Constantine) “the best Muppet wedding ever.”

This isn’t the best “Muppets” movie ever. But, as usual, it’s a lot of fun for young and oldish alike.


TITLE: “Muppets Most Wanted”

CREDITS: Directed by James Bobin; written by Mr. Bobin and Nicholas Stoller

RATING: PG for some mild action

RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes




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