Stars: The Muppets, with Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Jemaine Clement, Celine Dion, Ray Liotta
Director: James Bobin
Running time: 112 minutes
MPAA rating: PG for some mild action; B
"Muppets Most Wanted" is funnier than the last Muppets movie, with far better songs (by Bret McKenzie), punnier puns and all manner of geo-political gags, cultural wisecracks and star cameos.
Sure, you can take the kids. But will they get the Swedish chef in a remake of Ingmar Bergman film "The Seventh Seal" joke? Will they know who Celine Dion is and why Miss Piggy wanting to sing a duet with her is funny?
And clocking in at a kid-patience-testing 1 hour and 52 minutes, you have to wonder if Disney doesn't realize, after the 2011 Muppet revival, that it's making these films not for children, but for the people who loved the TV show back when Liberace and Liza Minnelli guest starred with Jim Henson & Co.
Lady Gaga and Usher may need no 10-and-under introduction. But Salma Hayek, Josh Groban, Ray Liotta, Saoirse Ronan, Danny Trejo, "Thor" villain Tom Hiddleston (in light red hair), Tony Bennett and Frank Langella? They're going to give grown-ups a giggle.
Kermit and the Muppets have barely reunited as a group when a predatory manager (Ricky Gervais) lures them into a world tour with promises of sold-out shows and worldwide Muppet adoration. But the tour is basically a plot by Dominic Badguy ("It's pronounced 'Bad-gee.' It's French.") to put a criminal mastermind and Kermit look-alike in charge of "The Muppet Show."
Constantine, "the world's most dangerous frog," breaks out of a Russian gulag, covers his facial mole in green makeup and tries to twist his Russian accent into Kermit speech to make the switcheroo work. Somehow, almost everybody is fooled, even the insistently lovesick Miss Piggy.
Constantine and Badguy schedule Muppet shows in Berlin, Madrid and Dublin in an effort to rob museums next door. And with the villains indulging every lunatic vanity project of every lunatic in the company - Piggy's Celine songs, Gonzo's "indoor running of the bulls" and the like - nobody's the wiser.
Meanwhile, Kermit's the one dragged back to the gulag, where fellow inmates Liotta, Jemaine Clement and Trejo accept him as their murderous leader ?- sort of. And camp commandant Nadya (Tina Fey, terrific) puts him to work casting and planning the prison's musical revue.
The Boris and Natasha accents that Fey and the hilarious Clement ("Dinner for Schmucks," TV's "Flight of the Conchords") sling are just hilarious, as is much of what pops up here.
The new Muppet voices don't quite match your memories of the original cast, a good reason to keep Kermit off camera for much of the film. And "Most Wanted" is entirely too long. Plus there's a Pixar "Monster's University" short, "Party Central," to make the trip to the cinemas even longer.
But "Most Wanted" is amusing enough to make you think, "So what if the kids don't dig it? Hire a sitter!"
This is what PG comedy was meant to be, with the giggles mixed with the groans, something only "Macarena"-dancing Muppets can deliver.