Muppets Most Wanted

Opens Friday

At the beginning of Muppets Most Wanted, Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the whole gang set expectations real low by doing a song-and-dance number called “We’re Doing a Sequel.” Complete with top hats and canes, the crew explains in the song how even though sequels aren’t usually that good, Disneywhich owns the Muppets with a clenched, white-gloved fistneeded something to put out while Tom Hanks is working on Toy Story 4. Despite the sardonic winks and imputations of pecuniary motives, the Muppets are still eternally wonderful enough to do it with effortless flair.

As always, Jim Henson’s beloved creations come out of the gate charming the hell out of you in a self-deprecating, self-reflexive fashion. Now that the band is back together, they embark on a world tour with the help of Dominic Badguy, a shady tour manager played by Ricky Gervais. He’s really the partner of Constantine, an arrogant, amphibious super-criminal who springs himself out of jail.

Constantine frames Kermit by stealing his identity (he smacks a moleConstantine’s most distinguishing featureon Kermit’s face) and taking his place on tour, doing museum heists at each stop. Meanwhile, Kermit gets sent to a Siberian gulag, where Tina Fey takes on an Eastern European accent as a hard-but-soft prison officer and Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo are his fellow inmates.

It may be a flimsy setup, especially considering the Muppets used a similar heist/frame-up device in 1981 with The Great Muppet Caper. But this is a Muppet movie, and we’re here to see how much ridiculous, fourth wall-breaking fun they can cram into one film. It certainly has a most peculiar, international collection of celebrity cameos, as Lady Gaga, Usher and Diddy do walk-ons along with James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan and Hugh Bonneville.

Flight of the Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie, who won an Oscar for penning “Man or Muppet” for the last movie, also returns to provide songs that are the most original, entertaining collection of film musical tunes I’ve heard since the soundtrack for South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. (They’re definitely catchier than the songs from Frozen. Yeah, I said it!)

Jason Segel, who co-wrote the last Muppets movie, and Amy Adams, who co-starred, aren’t around to provide human support this time. Thankfully, Segel’s frequent collaborator, writer Nicholas Stoller, and director James Bobin returned to write the script, packing it with sweetness and blissfully absurd gags.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Grand illusions.”