'Muppets Most Wanted': The Muppets Tour the World and Its Stereotypes

'Muppets Most Wanted' is silly, obvious and over the top – even when making fun of other countries.

This image released by Disney shows Muppet characters, from left, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Kermit, Floyd Walter and Scooter in a scene from "Muppets Most Wanted."

The Muppets tour Berlin in "Muppets Most Wanted."

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Fox Business made itself too easy of a target by accusing 2011’s “The Muppets” of being anti-capitalist for making its villain a greedy oil businessman named Tex Richman – an allegation that attracted the mockery of everyone from Jon Stewart to the Muppets themselves. Those who get bent out of shape about the politically incorrect (yet also dumb, in a good way) humor in “Muppets Most Wanted” – out this week – likely will meet the same fate.

Along with reveling in the usual joyous antics of a gang of lovable felt puppets, “Muppets Most Wanted” gets many of its laughs by profiteering off obvious cultural stereotypes, with the Muppets having decided to take their show on a tour of Europe. There are gags involving minuscule European cars, antiquated Interpol technology, French laziness, lots of accents and Berlin being “the world capital of comedy.” 

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Meanwhile, an evil Kermit look-alike – Constantine, a frog fashioned like a Cold War-era Bond villain – has broken out of a Siberian gulag, and Kermit is mistakenly sent there in his place. Before the current geopolitical crisis with Russia, all the time spent on a Soviet-stained set piece would have felt odd. Now it feels oddly well-timed.

Let’s be clear: This is a Muppets movie, not a Wes Anderson film. Most of the humor is geared so a 10-year-old could get it, and much of it is making fun of the Muppets themselves – in a loving, gentle way, of course.

Which is partially how it gets away with all its nation-mocking in an era when every ounce of cultural appropriation is picked apart endlessly. Muppet jokes are rarely, if ever, mean-spirited, and the most stereotypical “Muppets Most Wanted” characters are also the most endearing, be it Tina Fey as the sympathetic gulag officer or Ty Burrell as the tiny, espresso-drinking French Interpol detective.

This image released by Disney shows Tina Fey in a scene from "Muppets Most Wanted."
Tina Fey plays a sympathetic gulag officer in "Muppets Most Wanted."

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These jokes – like most Muppets humor – also are extremely obvious, lowbrow and goofy. Muppets films are aware of their silliness and are willing to double down on it in a way that still comes off as completely earnest. It's the kind of humor that allows the film – the sequel to the wildly successful 2011 franchise reboot – to kick off with the musical number “We're Doing a Sequel,” which includes the line, “That’s what we do in Hollywood/ And everybody knows the sequel is not quite as good.”

They’re right, it’s not. But with this technically being the seventh Muppets sequel – as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew reminds his Muppet friends – it at the very least has a little bit of an edge.

Corrected on March 21, 2014: A previous version of this story mischaracterized a joke in "Muppets Most Wanted."