OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: 'Muppets Most Wanted' an international funny film hit

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-03-21T00:00:00Z 2014-03-22T17:41:09Z OFFBEAT: 'Muppets Most Wanted' an international funny film hitBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Even at age 43, I've remained a fan of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Scooter and the rest of the Muppets gang.

To my recollection, of the eight feature films starring this family of felt and faux fur, prior to this week, I had only seen the first three major motion pictures in this franchise: "The Muppet Movie" (1979), "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981) and "The Muppets Take Manhattan" (1984).

Maybe, in 1984, by age 13, I began to think I had outgrown Muppet magic.

But after attending Monday's critics' screening in Chicago for the new Walt Disney Pictures, "Muppets Most Wanted," I realize nothing could be farther from the truth. Muppets have an appeal for every age. And seeing every one of the favorite characters looming larger-than-life on the big screen is the best way to become immersed on the Muppets' funny business of entertaining escape.

It was in November 2011 when Disney relaunched the idea of a new Muppet movie to introduce these felt favorites, created by the late, great Jim Henson, to new generations. The 2011 film "The Muppets" (which I didn't see) found great success, leading to "Muppets Most Wanted," opening nationwide in theaters today.

Comedian Ricky Gervais plays a tricky agent who convinces Kermit he should be the booking agent for an International tour to bring a live stage version of the classic vaudeville antics of the original "The Muppet Show." Along the way, Kermit encounters his amphibious European counterpart, a world-class crook (who happens to be a frog) named Constantine. Tina Fey gets in on the act playing a Russian prison matron with a crush on Kermit.

True to the tradition of a Muppet production, there are loads of celebrities who show up for fun cameos during this just under two-hour romp, including Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, Salma Hayek, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Usher and Stanley Tucci.

There are fantastic songs in this film that are so good, I'm still revisiting the tunes in my head five days later, especially the numbers "We're Doing a Sequel" and "I'm Number One."

I still recall how in the third movie of the original Muppet films, "The Great Muppet Caper," released in theaters in 1981, audiences and critics were amazed at a scene that showcased all of the Muppets in "full-body form" pedaling bicycles down a road. This was a true Henson feat of magic and special effects during an era prior to computer generated images being the norm for such an accomplishment.

For this film, which has a PG rating (I'm guessing because of a few explosions deemed violent?), there are more dazzling special effects to bring each favorite felt friend to life. It is wonderfully written and directed by James Bobin.

I left the theater smiling, ready to see it again, while feeling happy to be reunited with some very old and dear funny friends.

FYI: muppets.disney.com/muppets-most-wanted 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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