While technically the eighth Muppet movie—or, as the first song smartly explains, the seventh sequel—new release Muppets Most Wanted
probably won't be judged against the grosses of Muppet Treasure Island
. For better or worse, the overwhelming success of 2011's The Muppets
provided Disney a reboot blueprint: Stay with what works and remember who we're here to see. So, of course, Kermit is replaced by a Russian doppelgänger, we visit the grand concert halls of Europe, and Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais are given extended solo dance routines. While awful choices abound, the Muppets reflexively generate so much unsinkable goodwill that even the laziest of plots still charms—and might even be welcome, given the ’70s-meets-art deco visual aesthetic and escalating cameo bombs. Whatever the failings of the human leads, every gulag needs Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo and Josh Groban. Every wedding needs "the" Usher. Every Miss Piggy-Celine Dion duet needs an Academy Award. Fey and Gervais are not, however, singers, and neither are they actors in any traditional sense. Rather than embodying a role, they organize their most relevant tics, telegraph their amateur efforts to the audience and presumably depend upon natural presence and timing to carry a scene, which tends to fail disastrously when the co-star cannot wink. It actually is easy being green-screened. Comedy with puppets is hard.