The last movie I watched in 2008 – on New Years Eve, before going out for the night – was Muppets Wizard of Oz. I had sort of checked out of the Muppets by that point, which made sense because they were in a fallow period creatively, but I was curious because I love the Wizard of Oz so much. That was a bummer way to end the year, because that movie was a total parody of what made the Muppets work. Perhaps the most memorable misstep was the Quentin Tarantino cameo, where he was identified by name as a director of violent movies, as if the kids in the audience would have seen Kill Bill or would care about who made it.
One thing that the rebooted Muppets series has done well is to reintroduce cameos as Easter egg jokes, rather than ham handed set pieces. My strongest laugh during the last movie was when they had Dave Grohl dressed up as Animal in the knock-off band the Moopets. That’s the sort of joke that works if you recognize Dave Grohl, but it’s also funny if you don’t, because he looks ridiculous wearing Animal’s rags.
Muppets Most Wanted does a similarly good job. At one point Christoph Waltz waltzes with a bear, which works as a dumb visual gag or a pun on his name, but is also funny if you remember him as the sneering Nazi from Inglorious Basterds. Danny Trejo shows up as a prisoner in a Siberian Gulag, and it’s funny to see him dance in the dance numbers because that’s not his image at all, but also because he’s an awkward dancer doing ridiculous choreography.
In some ways I think Muppets Most Wanted is better than the last Muppet movie – it’s more consistent, for sure, with less existential “am I a muppet?” questions that are kind of hard to relate to – and in other ways I think it’s a bit worse because the highs are less high. But either way, I think both movies are pretty funny and sweet natured. I’ve heard criticism that both movies follow the template of the original round of Muppet movies a bit too closely, but being unoriginal and likeable is still a big step up from being unoriginal and awful.