Divergent is a dystopian teenage coming-of-age tale, crafted in the same “female lead with a rough exterior and good intentions” vein that has become so popular with young readers in the last few years. It appeals to a wide range of nerds on many different levels: bleak-future storytelling, a strong young woman placed out of her element, and a sense of belonging are themes that are present throughout the series. So naturally, I woke up to messages from many friends and family members asking how the midnight showing was for the film release.
Gleefully, I explained to them that I was more inclined to watch a movie of international theft, globetrotting to exotic locations, and family bonds through tough and trying times.
And, you know, for most of the character to be made of plywood and armature wire, while being hand-controlled by master puppeteers.
Muppets Most Wanted covered all of these desires and more, but admittedly, it had a couple bumps along the way. So this will be one of the only appropriate times for me to request playing the music and lighting the lights for my article.
One point that was oddly off-putting about Muppets Most Wanted was its heavy use of CGI. For lack of better terms, I am an appreciative Muppet-purist, in the sense that I found it both fun and incredibly satisfying when the Powers-That-Be in charge find creative ways to portray movement with the use of the puppet itself. The CGI felt very stilted, which we expect from the hand-controlled Muppet itself, but it felt increasingly inorganic and shoehorned as the movie progressed, to the point where it took away from enjoyment at points. One egregious example of this is the introduction of Constantine the Frog. Described as the “most dangerous frog in the entire world”, the movie illustrates this in his prison breakout, having him parkour-fight through inept Siberian guards. The flips and shadowplay were less of an entertainment point and felt more of an easy fix for not having to figure out small-limb manipulation of the Muppet itself, and felt almost as if the director took a lazy route.
The movie itself also suffered from a very common type of “Sequel Syndrome” as well. Instead of delving into a surprisingly cerebral yet slapstick-esque tale, its producers focused on the “exotic-locations-with-a-simpler-story” trope that many other childrens’ movies tend to fall into. I do appreciate that it affords younger viewers a sense of culture and time-tested foreign stereotypes, but to have a choice between having an audience puzzle out either the existential search for one’s identity through family and values or an international heist to steal England’s crown jewels, I’m always going to choose the one that shouldn’t fit with silly puppets and musical numbers. In truth, the plot felt like more of a Madagascar-type movie that I probably would have never bothered seeing, but the appeal of the Muppets as a brand is what drove me into the theatre instead.
But dat meta-storytelling and cameos doe. The Muppets have not and will not ever disappoint with its star-studded cast or its meta-commentary on the state of storytelling and old-school values. What I appreciated most about this movie was its constant homage to its television roots instead of its big-screen iterations, using many familiar sight-gags and throwbacks to characters that made the ride fun as a whole. From seeing Liz Lemon play a Siberian Gulag warden to the smallest cameos of Dr. Abraham Erskine playing a prison guard who apologizes for shooting at Kermit, it is always a rare treat to see actors going out of their way to add to an ensemble. Even the first musical number in the entire movie pointed out that this is probably not going to be as good as its predecessor, poking fun at its chances to be a commercial and critical success. This masterful blend of appealing to children and nostalgic adults has been the recent draw of the Muppets, and this film did not lack for nostalgia and humor.
The original music composition was spot-on as well, bringing on a very familiar New Zealander for his comedic prowess with instruments. I am a huge fan of Flight of the Conchords, so it was very refreshing to get to see Bret and Jemaine get to tackle children’s topics instead of the struggles of males at nightclubs. I particularly enjoyed “The Big House” and the “Interrogation Song”; the former for Tina Fey and Josh Groban’s performance ability, and the latter for its inventive mix of setting, language, and choreography. Also, getting to see Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo performing “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line was insanely unexpected and hilarious.
In truth, all of us at Geek Say What? are staunch and enthusiastic Muppets fans, to the point where we will shamelessly make our own puppets without any prior voice or craft training. Muppets Most Wanted, although not as exceedingly great as its predecessor, is a fun and carefree reminder that the Muppets will be a staple in our lives, our childrens’ lives, and for many other generations to come. Their slapstick and meta-critique are time-tested markers of Muppet humor, but this may be one movie to enjoy in the comfort of your homes instead of an opening weekend. At the very most, you and your family are having a fun night out, and at the very least, you don’t have to explain to the young ones around you about disproportionate ruling-class and systematically categorical societies.