Muppets Most Wanted is funnier than The Muppets movie from 2011, 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 joke about the Swedish Chef in a remake of the Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal? Will they know who Celine Dion is, and why Miss Piggy wanting to sing a duet with her is funny?
It's nearly two hours, long enough to test kids' patience, making one wonder whether Disney doesn't realize, after the Muppet revival of a few years ago, that it's making these films not for children but for the people who loved the TV show back when Liberace and Liza Minnelli were guest-starring with Jim Henson & Co. Lady Gaga and Usher might need no 10-and-younger 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 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 next-door museums. 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 is the wiser. Interpol's silliest Frenchman (Ty Burrell of Modern Family) and the CIA's Sam the Eagle are slow to catch on as well.
Meanwhile, Kermit is the one dragged back to the gulag, where inmates Liotta, Trejo and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords accept him as their murderous leader — sort of. Camp commandant Nadya (Tina Fey, terrific) puts him to work casting and planning the prison's musical revue.
The production numbers are epic — from the "everybody knows a sequel is never quite as good" opener, to a duet with Gervais and Constantine, Miss Piggy sharing a song with Dion and Fey's '60s girl group-style prison show-stopper, Big House.
The Boris & Natasha accents that Fey and the hilarious Clement sling are just hilarious, as is much of what pops up here.
The new voices don't quite match your memories of the original cast, a good reason to keep Kermit off camera for much of the film. Most Wanted is entirely too long, which puts a strain on the time-worn puns and slight sight gags (towering Burrell and Sam the Eagle stuffed into a tiny Interpol police car).
There's a Pixar Monsters University short, "Party Central," that has about as many laughs as last summer's feature-length snoozer, 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.