Pretty much from the first moment the movie that eventually became The Muppets was rumored, fans were on board with the idea, and the reason everyone had so much faith in the project was simple: Jason Segel. Not only did he prove to the world that he could hit that right Muppet mix of heartfelt and hilarious by writing Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but he also showed some indication in that film that he had a rare talent for creating the goofy sort of puppet humor that makes you grin just as much as you groan. And after every interview he did while promoting the film made mention of the fact that said penchant for goofy puppet humor came from his lifelong love of the Muppets, and that his absolute dream project was to write a Muppet movie of his own—well, it was enough to create a perfect storm of good will.
Ever since it was announced that the Segel and Nicholas Stoller-written and James Bobin-directed The Muppets would be getting a sequel set in Europe, the reaction to the project has conversely been met with a little bit of skepticism though, and that skepticism can basically be traced back to one root cause: the film’s decided lack of Jason Segel. This time around Bobin would be back in the director’s chair, Stoller would be back to help him put together a script, and Bret McKenzie would even be back to do the music, but the man whose passion and sensibilities led to the Muppets being revived in the first place would be absent. Could they recapture the magic of their recapturing of the magic without Segel on board?
From the looks of the first teaser trailer that came out for Muppets Most Wanted, it wasn’t seeming very likely. Sure, it was just a teaser, but nowhere in the minute or so of footage was there any evidence of the sneaky subversiveness or the off-the-wall absurdity that raises the best of the Muppet material above the family programming rabble that continually gets churned out by Hollywood. There were a couple of tired, Meta references to how sequels always need to be bigger and louder, but that was it as far as satire goes, and that’s a joke that’s already been made by so many sequels at this point that it hardly felt like we needed to see it made again.
There were about a million blink-and-you’ll-miss-it celebrity cameos stuck into the teaser, and celebrity guest appearances have certainly always been a hallmark of the Muppet movies and TV shows, but in the best of their material the point of the cameo was always the silly stuff that the celebrities were doing alongside their new felt friends, not just the fact that they were showing up and lending their famous faces to the promotion of the thing. Cameos were the sizzle of a Muppet story, and this teaser was presenting them as the steak.
Probably the most concerning aspect of that first teaser was the fact that it ended with a performance of that insipid ‘Moves Like Jagger’ song though. Sure, there’s always music in a Muppet movie, and they’ve even been known to pull out a cover here and there, but all of that thumping noise and the gratuitous blasting of the annoying club song de jour evident in the Most Wanted teaser was exactly the sort of thing that we’ve come to expect from the loud, obnoxious kids movies that The Muppets played as such a welcome relief from. Where was all the trademarked weirdness?
The point of all this complaining is that a new full-length trailer for Muppets Most Wanted has just been released, and even if it doesn’t remove all of the doubts surrounding the project that Segel’s absence has created, it at least alleviates most of the fears that were created by that first, awful teaser. The focus is a lot more on the human actors who will actually be doing things in the movie and not so much on those who will just be showing up for a second, there are a number of goofy gags that totally hit (with the Kermit look-alike character’s attempts at mastering Kermit’s voice being standouts), and most importantly, there’s no ‘Moves Like Jagger’ to be found anywhere. Sure, there’s some generic song playing as noise in the background, but that seems to be more of an indication that the people who cut trailers these days are under orders to make them all-out assaults on our senses than it is an indication that Muppets Most Wanted will be doing any musical pandering.
Give the trailer a try, if for no other reason than just to see Tina Fey doing slapstick while milking an absolutely embarrassing Russian accent. She’s so very charming, and this sequel might actually have some potential after all.