Cinema Review: Muppets Most Wanted

muppets-most-wanted

DIR: James Bobin • WRI: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller • PRO: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman • DOP: Don Burgess • ED: James Thomas • MUS: Christophe Beck • DES: Eve Stewart • CAST: Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tom Hiddleston

 

In 2011 The Muppet clan was revived and celebrated as a satirical tribute to one of television’s greatest entertainment shows. Apart from the enjoyable antics of Kermit and co. James Bobin had some great additions on board with Jason Segal and Amy Adams to name a few. The success of The Muppets sees James Bobin return with an even more outlandish adventure, one that puts Kermit behind Russian bars, while an “evil frog” escapee is sanctioned at the helm of The Muppet show.

Beginning in typical Muppet fashion, our sequel opens with a song following a celebration of The Muppet reunion we saw in its predecessor. However the euphoria ends there, with the Muppets turning to Kermit for optimism. Consumed in opportunities, Dominick Badguy (Rick Gervais), despite his ironic name, convinces Kermit to go on tour. Unaware of Dominick’s intentions, Kermit puts the future of Muppet shows into the hands of the audacious Dominick. In the midst of new adventures, Kermit is consistently hounded by Miss Piggy, who is persistent on marrying the charming frog, despite the fact Kermit is yet to propose to the female pig. As the troupe warm to Dominick’s presence, his indulgence is that of a distraction for Constantine the “Evil Frog” (a Russian version of Kermit with a mole) to frame Kermit, leading to exodus in a Serbian jail rubbernecked by Nadya (Tina Fey). Humorously titled “Number 2”, Dominick is forced to comply with Constantine’s commands and together plan a European jewel heist, using The Muppet Show as a way in.

Ricky Gervais certainly surprised me. I am by no means a big fan of his; however, he adds a touch of realism to his role with his witty humour and sleazy antics. He has an obvious aspiration toward the Muppet franchise that is recognised throughout. The irony of playing puppet to a Muppet of Constantine’s presence makes for great comedy and toe-tapping festivity; watching Gervais squabble under Constantine’s melody of “I am Number One” will create a giggle or two whether you like the man or not.

The emergence of Sam (the American eagle) and Jean Pierre (Ty Burrell) as two French Interpol detectives add a touch of parody and reference in regard to the buddy-cop genre. Both characters are uncanny to say the least; however, they are ambitious enough to help bring Constantine to justice. There is not a lifeless bone in this ambitious return as the latest Muppet adventure sees them bump into familiar faces of past, and present.

Just like its predecessor, Muppets Most Wanted is highly dependent on its parody of familiar cameos; one such scene introduces the recently acclaimed Christopher Waltz to their show, performing nothing other than, yes, you guessed it, the Waltz. It is a tradition to include such celebrities that really makes The Muppets a joy to watch, prolonging its satirical and more important, self-awareness that what you are watching is completely self-indulgent; it’s a concept that does not look like holding back. The fact that one of Kermit’s cellmates is Danny Trejo, who is called Danny Trejo in the movie, sums it all up. There are plenty of cameos to explore, best left to surprise.

The overall production is yet again proving that CGI cinematography isn’t everything.  The Muppets has come a long way since its first appearance in 1955 thanks to its creator Jim Henson. Since then Walt Disney has remained consistent in its production but slightly advanced in its effects regarding the crime caper blend thrown in this time around, suiting the emergence of Constantine. The musical premise is euphoric and wonderfully pieced together giving off a pantomime effect we know all too well.

James Bobin has succeeded yet again in crafting an enticing story with competent dialogue while managing to juggle its burlesque roots. The self-referential concept is still very much inexistence. As you would expect there is a considerable amount of Muppet appearances; the bickering companionship of the aging Waldorf and Statler, Gonzo (the great), Fozzie the Bear and Animal, to name some favourites. The vast majority are shunned, which may be down to the reliance of Rick Gervais as the villain and Kermit’s Russian equivalent Constantine. Both characters conceive the comedy worth remembering while in truth, the rest of the Muppets get on with the show by encouraging you to sing along.

However, it is the choice of dialogue that makes Muppets Most Wanted so relevant in its topic and witty in its outcome; taunting modern social networks and its use of film reviews, to scorning the morals of the average journalist. It is the humorous ridicule of such topics that are thrown out there for you to recognise, but, you can still enjoy the Muppets Most Wanted for its nostalgia and slapstick elements.

Gerard Dodd

G (See IFCO for details)
112 mins

Muppets Most Wanted is released on 28th March 2014

Muppets Most Wanted – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Mr Peabody and Sherman

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DIR: Rob Minkoff   WRI: Craig Wright  PRO: Denise Nolan Cascino, Alex Schwartz  ED: Tom Finan   MUS: Danny Elfman  DES: David James  CAST: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci, Lake Bell, Patrick Warburton, Mel Brooks

 

STOP. DO NOT CLICK OFF THIS PAGE…

I’m not one for stereotyping or profiling but I have a sense of the average Film Ireland reader. And I’m sensing kids’ animations get short-shift from you lovers of interminable European arthouse dirges and avid fans of restored silent black and white Eskimo epics from 1936.

What can I do to change your collective mindset? All I can say is that if you pass over this film with your snooty cineaste nose held aloft, then you are potentially missing one of the early unexpected highlights of 2014. (If you have a snotty cineaste nose – go see a doctor. That’s a whole other condition). So do you hate enjoying yourself? Do you hate laughter? Do you hate children?

If you’re still here, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m not exaggerating. This is a little gem of an animation bristling with verve, imagination and genuine warmth. I’m blissfully ignorant of the original TV show (bar a tangential reference in a Simpsons time travel episode) but I instinctively doubt it was as subversive and sharp as this modern re-imagining.

The film centres on and celebrates the relationship between a super-smart canine Mr Peabody and his adopted human boy Sherman. Even in an animated fictional world, their pure and mutual affection is viewed with incredulity and suspicion. Sherman becomes self conscious about having a dog as a dad when he starts a new school. However he is proud enough of his guardian’s inventions to try and impress a classmate by showing her a top-secret time travel machine. When they start to zip and rip through the fabric of history, their only option is to confide in Mr Peabody and trust that his genius brain can re-impose order on the past.

Naturally this playful confection has a zany take on history from Troy to the French Revolution but by jingo – there’s a subtle yet substantial educational pill inside this candyfloss entertainment.  Yet, the film is never less than an irreverent and rollicking adventure. Summed up by the duo developing a habit of being ejected from any animal shaped construct whether Sphinx or Trojan horse by the rear exit – if you get my drift. And it’s hilarious.

On paper, the character of the know-it-all Mr Peabody could easily be a bore or just plain annoying. However he is brilliantly personified by the dulcet tones of Ty Burrell (who is equally impressive as the effete father Phil Dunphy in TV’s Modern Family). As well as undercutting his boffin status with practical shortcomings and occasional over-confidence, Burrell imbues the dog with palpable insecurities. The stiff upper lip of the character is adroitly established with the clever deployment of a discernible trace of an English accent in the vocal performance. On the back of this wonderful work, I envisage Burrell being a stalwart on the voiceover scene for the foreseeable future.

Much like veteran vocal artist Patrick Warburton who is hysterical in the Troy sequence as an empty headed but overly emotive Agamemnon.  That entire section has me in stitches from the moment the occupiers of the main Trojan horse are fooled into bringing a much smaller wooden horse into their covert hiding place. Again, the film operates superbly but differently for kids and adults. The comedic peak of the film’s ambitious climax is a supremely naughty reference that kids will be blissfully oblivious of.

And though rampant incessant entertainment would have been reward enough, the film even has an emotional arc that resonates without being cloying or overly saccharine. The writer Craig Wright must be singled out even in this most collaborative art form. His script zings and fizzes with giddy creativity but in fairness, the visuals are exceptional too.

Even the 3-D is expertly and continually utilised to accentuate the storytelling. And that really is rare. Most 3-D in this field focuses on the opening sequence and perhaps is again concentrated on during the closing stretch. An entire raft of animated films has displayed this token approach to 3D but this film distinguishes itself by never forgetting about the extra dimension. From sword fights to snake fangs or angles that emphasise the height and depth of an Egyptian tomb, the effect is, for once, mesmerizing.

Kids of a certain age love watching favourite films over and over again. This title will instantly enter that firmament. Personally, I could have easily sat through it a second time just after the first screening had concluded. When’s the last time that happened in the cinema?

James Phelan

G (See IFCO for details)
92  mins

Mr Peabody and Sherman is released on 7th February 2014

Mr Peabody and Sherman – Official Website

 

 

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