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Film Face-off: ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ vs. ‘Muppets Most Wanted’

Life’s a happy song when you’re dealing with a rainbow connection. Life’s also pretty good when a new Muppet sequel battles the original Muppet sequel in this week’s Film Face-off.

Muppets Most Wanted continues where The Muppets (2011) leaves off. It also marks the eighth theatrical film for the Muppets. I’m a big fan. I teared up the first two times I watched The Muppets and we have a minimalist Muppets poster framed in my son’s room. Choosing five categories for this face-off proved difficult. After watching both films I decided the side Muppets break even, so that is why there won’t be a lot of talk about the brilliant comedic moments coming from Swedish Chef, Waldorf, Statler, Dr. Teeth, Sweetums, Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker and even the great Animal.

The Plot

Muppets Most Wanted

The Great Muppet Caper

Kermit and Fozzie play identical twins and reporters who travel to Britain to get to the story from victims of jewel thieves. They get help from a secretary by the name of Miss Piggy.

Muppets Most Wanted

With the help of their new manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) the Muppets go on a world tour. They get mixed up with a European jewel heist with a look-alike Kermit the Frog.

Winner: The Great Muppet Caper. Kermit and Fozzie are identical twins. Plus, all of the Muppets are playing characters in this story. It’s a chance for them to be more than just the playful creatures we know. While the beginning of Muppets Most Wanted starts immediately where The Muppets left off, with them even referring to the comeback only being a movie, we have a little too many locations and side plots to make you feel like you’re on a specific journey.

The Big Four

The Great Muppet Caper

Gonzo the Great plays a photographer along side the reporters Kermit and Fozzie. Miss Piggy is a secretary who is willing to lie to get Kermit’s affections.

Muppets Most Wanted

Kermit is sent to Siberia, and replaced by the evil look-alike Constantine. Piggy wants marriage. Fozzie is just hanging out. Walter becomes suspicious of Constatine.

Winner: The Great Muppet Caper. Did you notice that Walter has more of a role than Gonzo in Most Wanted? He also has a bigger role than Fozzie Bear. There’s just not a good enough reason for this. Even a self-referential joke referring to the annoyance of squeezing in new characters at the expense of beloved ones isn’t enough. Eventually Fozzie is given the role of a tagalong to Walter. Here’s the thing, I don’t mind Walter, but I don’t need Walter. With The Great Muppet Caper there is a pretty slow middle section with Kermit and Piggy hanging out, but it doesn’t rely on the old storyline of Piggy wanting marriage and Kermit being uncomfortably nervous about the whole idea.

The Main Humans

Muppets Most Wanted

The Great Muppet Caper

Charles Grodin plays jewel thief Nicky Holiday. His sister is Lady Holiday, played by Diana Rigg, and Jack Warden has a small role as the newspaper editor Mike Tarkanian. Nicky has three models as his jewel thief partners (Marla, Carla and Darla).

Muppets Most Wanted

Gervais is Dominic Badguy, Tina Fey is a prison warden named Nadya. Ty Burrell is Jean Pierre Napoleon who teams up with Sam the Eagle to investigate the crimes. Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo are all prisoners.

Winner: Muppets Most Wanted. Grodin is great, but besides a quick intro he doesn’t show up until the 43-minute mark. That’s a long time to wait for Grodin. By the way, if you’re young and unaware, Grodin is a comedic genius and you need to check out his film archive. His jewel thief ladies are a waste, so is his sister. Gervais has a decent song, and a few one-liners, but doesn’t truly shine. Fey definitely plays it up as the Russian prison warden, and it’s fun to see such a departure for her. I am ready to watch Burrel and Sam the Eagle in a weekly spin-off series. Actually, I could do the same with the Siberian prisoners led by the brilliant Clement.

The Cameos

The Great Muppet Caper

John Cleese, Joan Sanderson, Robert Morley, Peter Ustinov, Oscar the Grouch and Peter Falk.

Muppets Most Wanted

Tony Bennett, Tom Hiddleston, Salma Hayek, Hugh Bonneville, Sean Combs and Rob Corddry.

Winner: Muppets Most Wanted. For spacing’s sake, I stopped after six cameos in Most Wanted. Here are the rest of the celebrities who get to hang out with the Muppets: Céline Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Frank Langella, James McAvoy, Chloë Grace Moretz, Usher Raymond, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz, Mackenzie Crook. It’s an easy win, with these cameos constantly giving adults something else in addition to the Muppets. I’m not a fan of Dion, but even she did some good stuff here. Plus, with the world tour, it is great to see people like Waltz play onstage with the Muppets as the special guest star. With Muppet Caper only Cleese is given something truly funny to work with as Piggy tries to act like she owns his mansion when meeting Kermit for a date.

The Songs

Muppets Most Wanted

The Great Muppet Caper

We start things off with “Hey a Movie!” “Happiness Hotel” is when we see our supporting Muppets. “The First Time It Happens” is a slow number for Piggy.

Muppets Most Wanted

 “We’re Doing a Sequel” starts things off. “I’m Number One” is the big Gervais number. “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” is a surprisingly affective ode to Piggy. “Together Again” taps into Muppet nostalgia.

Winner: Muppets Most Wanted. The rest of Muppet Caper songs don’t provide much fun. “Couldn’t We Ride” is OK, and only wins me over because it has all of the Muppets riding bikes (and seeing their full bodies). “Night Life” just isn’t good. Most Wanted has more than a handful of fun songs. “Interrogation Song” gives Burrel a chance to question most of the Muppets. Even seeing Clement sing “Working in the Coal Mine” is amusing and that’s not even in my top five musical moments.

OVERALL WINNER: Muppets Most Wanted beats The Great Muppet Caper, 3-2.

First I watched Muppets Most Wanted and was a little disappointed. I give the film a 7/10, but The Muppets was a 9/10 for me, and I was hoping for that kind of magic. Historically, I remembered The Great Muppet Caper being my favorite, but then I rewatched it. The middle is slow and boring. Yes, the beginning and end are great, but I spent a good 45 minutes waiting for the fun to kick back in. The potential romance between Kermit and Piggy has never interested me. Now I find myself wanting to rewatch Muppets Most Wanted, thinking I was a little too hard on it. If nothing else, it definitely stands up well as another chapter in the hopefully never-ending film franchise headed by Kermit the Frog and the rest of the gang. Just give me more Fozzie Bear next time, OK?



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