Star and scriptwriter Jason Segel's lovingly crafted reboot of The Muppets pulled off a magic trick worthy of Gonzo the Great back in 2011.
Segel's trick was to relaunch the moribund Muppet empire in the context of a sunny musical comedy. The film got the tone especially right: a kid-friendly adventure that also addressed a grown man's distracting love affair with his childhood comedy heroes.
It's probably for the best that Segel did not return for the sequel, because he accomplished what he had to do in the first film. The sequel sees the Muppets back on track, doing what they have always done, making groan-inducing jokes in the context of a madcap adventure. With lots of star cameos.
It doesn't deny its sequel status. It starts precisely where the last one ended, with Kermit the Frog and the reunited gang contemplating a world tour. Kermit, ever the voice of amphibian reason, doesn't want to proceed too quickly.
Unfortunately, most of the other Muppets have lent their ears/antennae/whatever to a sleazy theatrical agent tellingly named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who assures the gang his red-flag last name is pronounced Bad-gee. "It's French."
Dominic is in fact the "Number Two" to criminal mastermind Constantine, a Russian frog who looks exactly like Kermit, save for a tell-tale facial mole. Constantine contrives to break out of a Russian gulag, change places with Kermit, and engage in a cross-European crime spree while Kermit cools his froggy heels in Siberia.
The plot hinges on the fact no one will notice anything strange about "Kermit" speaking with a Russian accent. The other Muppets prove to be reliably dim in that regard, save for Animal, whose warning shouts of "Bad frog!" go unheeded. Meanwhile, things are looking grim for the framed Kermit, the focus of attention of Nadya (Tina Fey), a musical theatre-loving warden with an iron fist and a song in her heart.
This plot point enables director James Bobin and songwriter Bret McKenzie to stage a musical number with hardened criminals played by Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta and McKenzie's Flight of the Conchords partner Jemaine Clement.
Ty Burrell shows up as French Interpol agent Jean-Pierre Napoleon, investigating the Muppet-linked crime spree with his American counterpart Sam Eagle, a pairing that doesn't yield the yuks as well as it should.
Cameos? It's got loads of those, including Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Josh Groban, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Hiddleston and the inevitable Lady Gaga. Perhaps the best cameo goes to, of all people Céline Dion, who pairs with Miss Piggy on one of those lush Oscar-bait movie love songs to surreal effect. The others are largely gratuitous.
But the movie is otherwise a silly good time that should have parents and kids laughing consistently throughout, even if they're not always laughing at the same things.