The Bob Iger Sanction
When Disney acquired Jim Henson’s felt vaudevillians the movie released subsequently hammered home the corporate strategy underpinning the move without mercy. 2011’s The Muppets noted that a Disney Store had opened near the Muppet Theatre, that Cars 2 was coming out on Blu-ray, thanks to an aerial shot of a billboard, and that saccharine songs and hypocrisy were what Disney’s new slaves were all about.
Perhaps sensitive to those claims, Muppets Most Wanted is a different beast: far more irreverent and mischievous than its predecessor, with only a conspicuous cameo from tie-in fast food outlet, Subway, marring an otherwise anarchic farce. Yes, in this new Henson-like climate, even the presence of Ricky Gervais as the accomplice to an amphibian mastermind (and Kermit doppelganger) is well received. His deadpan approach is perfect for a Muppet flick that has a frog sent to a gulag and jokes about the French work ethic. And best of all there’s not an ancillary Disney product in sight.
Of course this being a property, not merely a series for kids who like puppets who tell witty jokes, there’s an eye on markets and consequently we have a plot about a world tour, cover for Gervais’ planned series of robberies, that takes in the locales most likely to cough up when asked to see a Muppet movie. They are, naturally, Britain, Ireland, France and Germany. Russia, not known for their Muppet fanbase, are shown as old Soviets with Uncle Joe’s penchant for cruel and unusual punishment, indicating that if nothing else, something as old as the Muppets can still chime with the zeitgeist.
It’s likely some will tire of the movie’s self-referential, self-reflexive shtick long before the end, though the tongue in cheek dismissal of the 2011’s film’s story is interesting, but weary kids and adults alike may just swallow it down, accepting that movies for children now double as compact film studies courses, and that adults won’t be interested in taking their tadpoles to these things unless there’s pop cultural references for them to consume and feel clever for noticing.