The 2011 reboot of the The Muppets was a phenomenal success. Co-written by puppet fan Jason Segel who also starred with Amy Adams in the film’s deliciously adorable live action leads, The Muppets made new owners Disney over $165 million at the worldwide box office.

Muppets Most Wanted picks up right where the The Muppets left off. Now back together after a successful reunion show, Muppets Most Wanted opens with a canny little number, ‘We’re Doing A Sequel’. Fans will delight that the Muppets hasn’t lost the self-deprecating, self-referencing humour that made the 2011 reboot so appealing. In the words of Kermit, ‘all we need now is a half decent plot’.

This time The Muppets director James Bobin returns and takes a writing credit too, along with the reboot’s screenwriter Nicholas Stoller. The story here is ultimately weaker than its predecessor, with a strong and very funny start leading to a more conventional, foil the baddie plot during the film’s final act.

“Fans will delight – the Muppets hasn’t lost its self-deprecating, self-referencing humour”

The Muppets are persuaded to take a world tour by suspiciously named manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who’s out to steal from the world’s most famous museums. Meanwhile Kermit winds up getting conned by the world’s most dangerous frog, Constantine, and finds himself in a Russian Gulag. Gervais does his utmost to play for laughs but the absence of another live actor to spar with makes this an uphill struggle. This might be a problem if Muppets Most Wanted were not so keen to make fun of itself. ‘You know life’s gone to the dogs when your boss is a frog… in the meantime, I’ve got to dance monkey dance,’ sings Gervais.

Ty Burrell (Modern family) wades in as Jean Pierre Napoleon, assigned to solve Badguy’s escalating number of European burglaries with CIA Muppet, Sam The Eagle. This whacky duo are the source of numerous grown-up gags about relaxed European lunch hours and EU regulations. Perhaps not laugh out loud funny but certainly prompting a few titters, they cram into the tiny bubble car Napoleon describes as ‘illegal in the EU due to its massive size’.

Tina Fey, draws the shortest straw as Russian prison officer, Nadya, whose crude Russian accent is increasingly irritating. Hampered by the movie’s weakest musical number, Fey brings plenty of gusto to this limited role and the potentially tedious Gulag scenes whizz by. Despite these energetic performances from the principal cast, some of the film’s most hilarious moments come from madcap cameos – the comedy oozing from their outright weirdness. Think Christoph Waltz doing a Waltz and you’ll get the general idea.

The heartwarming Adams and Segel along with their sugary naivety are noticeably absent, yet peppered as it is with grown-up gags, Muppets Most Wanted still makes for quality family viewing. Look out for the movie’s stack of amusing visual gags – a Times headline that reads, ‘Week of slow news sees Muppets dominate headlines’, and a German billboard advertising ‘Die Muppets’. Movie buffs won’t be disappointed either, with references to Ingmar Bergman’s ‘existential film about religion’, The Seventh Seal, among others.

Aside from the opening number, Muppets Most Wanted’s musical efforts lack the originality and rib-tickling spark of the reboot who’s songs Me Party, Life’s A Happy Song and Oscar winning, Man Or A Muppet were catchy and addictive to boot. Here, ‘I’m Number One’ and ‘I’ll Get You What You Want,’ are less immediately seductive but, in retrospect, just as infectious.

As for the Muppets, reboot lead Walter cements his place in Muppets history and there’s plenty of slapstick action for Miss Piggy, Kermit, Animal and Gonzo. An array of lesser known, but classic, Muppets also make an appearance for die-hard fans.

In the words of the Muppets in their opening song, ‘everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,’ and maybe they’re right, but this entry comes pretty close. Grown-up laughs taper off during the movie’s finale but by this time the sharp, self-deprecating comedy has already quenched even the most voracious thirst for Muppet based humour. Bring on another sequel, The Muppets are in their prime.

VERDICT:    ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✩    4/5

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Image credits: Disney