WARNING: Spoilers…for previous Muppet movies. Though honestly, if you haven’t seen them by now, I doubt you’re reading this.
He’s mean, he’s green, and he’ll steal the scene. No, I’m not talking about the Incredible Hulk or Justin Bieber on a Carnival cruise. (Are people still making jokes about that? I mean the cruise.) I’m talking about Constantine, the world’s most dangerous frog and the villain of the eighth and newest theatrical Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted. Having Constantine play the villain is an unprecedented move, as to this point, the lead villains have all been played by humans. But what does it take to be good at being bad? Recently, I traveled to the Cinemaplex Maximum Insecurity Prison and Family Fun Park to meet with the League of Muppet Movie Villains and get their advice as to how Constantine can be the best (worst?) bad guy he can be. I sat down with a roundtable of rogue, scoundrels, and a still-recovering head trauma patient: Doc Hopper, Nicky Holiday, Martin Price (who was just happy to be remembered), Ebenezer Scrooge (who wasn’t as happy to be included in this), Long John Silver, K. Edgar Singer (who was really just there for the ice cream sandwiches), and Tex Richman. What I left with was sage advice, the wisdom only trial and error can bring, and a honey butter biscuit. (Doc Hopper was doing some new product testing.)
There’s no denying that the Muppets are more than the sum of their parts. When they stand together, they’re unstoppable (even when you’ve successfully stopped them, as Richman reminded me). If you want to get them vulnerable, get them apart. But perhaps this can be used to an advantage. The plot of Muppets Most Wanted involves Constantine framing Kermit and having him sent off to “The Big House.” Kermit has pretty much always been the brains of the outfit. The Muppets will follow him anywhere, whether it’s to Hollywood, Broadway, or even the shores of Cape Doom. If Constantine can successfully masquerade as Kermit, he can use that loyalty to get the gang to do whatever he wants. But be forewarned: if they’re separated, they will come back together, and they will be stronger than ever. With a renewed sense of family, they will come at you like a fuzzy force of nature.
Movies have a way of changing characters. A road trip to Hollywood turned a quiet frog into a confident star. Ghosts turned a bitter miser into the very embodiment of the spirit of Christmas. Gonzo’s species went from a recurring joke to a topic that is verboten amongst Muppet fans. And in a Muppet movie, your loyal henchman may question his motivations. (I say “his” only because so far, all villainous sidekicks have been male. That’s not to say the possibility of a henchwoman in the future isn’t welcome, though, especially if she’s played by Mila Kunis. The League and I all agree on this.) And that can lead to trouble at the film’s climax. We’ve seen this before. Max covertly warned Kermit that Hopper was bringing a band of killers his way in The Muppet Movie. Sweetums switched sides, betraying Silver in Muppet Treasure Island. Bobo managed to unload Singer’s weapon before he could vaporize Gonzo and his alien brethren in Muppets from Space. And in The Muppets, Uncle Deadly realized his heart lied with his old costars and sabotaged Richman’s…umm…sabotage. So don’t be surprised if and when your henchman has a change of heart. Dominic Badguy may be the world’s number two most wanted criminal, but perhaps Badguy, deep down, is a Goodguy.
One Muppet in particular has a way of mucking up villains’ plans. You might just call him the “wild card.” And this card is very wild indeed, because the Muppets’ secret weapon is none other than Animal. Whether he’s enjoying the effects of an Insta-Grow Pill or taking down Martin Price (both figuratively and literally), he’s can foil a scheme just by being himself. (I’m sure Darla, Marla, and Carla would agree). As the promotional materials suggest, Animal may find himself playing a key part in the plan to free Kermit and stop Constantine. And if Constantine tries to deceive Animal, he might just find himself substituting for his drum kit. And in that vein…
Never forget the golden rule when going against the Muppets. To borrow a quote from Doctor Who, “if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow,” there’s one thing you must remember.
Don’t. Bet. Against. The. Pig.
The one thing stronger than Miss Piggy’s karate chop is her love for Kermit (and that’s a mighty strong karate chop). If you try and put yourself between her and her frog, you’re asking for a beatdown. Miss Piggy is no damsel in distress. She is clever and determined, and she’s gotten out of some pretty tight spots. If Kermit needs help busting out of prison, his one phone call should go to Miss Piggy. She’s done it before (also after being framed for a crime she didn’t commit) in The Great Muppet Caper. She’s also administered an electronic cerebrectomy to Professor Krassman and managed to karate chop Kermit’s memories back into place just moments before making his Broadway debut. This is a pig that’s not afraid to get into the nitty gritty. Constantine may be able to romance her for a while, but in the end, she will always make her way back to the frog she loves. And then Constantine will see that it’s not easy being black and blue.
Okay, I’m going to go on a little mini-rant right now, since I’m well out of earshot of Mr. Holiday. There’s only one element in The Great Muppet Caper that irks me, and that’s the villains. Nothing about their characters makes sense. Nicky Holiday lives off the success of his sister, and she doesn’t seem to mind too much (or at least not enough to cut him off), so why is he motivated to steal from her? And then there’s Darla, Marla, and Carla. Sure, there’s a bit of motivation when Lady Holiday criticizes the dresses they’re wearing, but Lady Holiday designed the dresses. She’s criticizing her own work! Take away the “because I’m a villain” excuse, which pretty much is there for the purpose of a joke, and none of it makes any sense other than to keep the plot moving. Heck, that would have been a better joke! “Why am I doing this? To keep the plot going! It’d just be a disjointed collection of jokes and musical numbers without me!” But I highly doubt Constantine will have this problem. He’s impersonating Kermit so that he can go around committing crimes with no one suspecting him. There. That’s motivation enough. And it won’t be cut from a musical number. Is it really that hard?
The one sad part about being a Muppet movie villain is that you’re almost assured to never come back. Sure, you may get a throwaway reference in a mediocre television movie twenty-three years later, but that’s the best-case scenario, and far from assured. So you only really get one go-round. And Constantine, if you’re reading this, I implore you to make the most of it. Make yourself the reason people still watch Muppets Most Wanted years from now. Chew all the scenery you can. Have a fun musical number or two. Or maybe even three. Don’t be afraid to maniacally laugh at yourself. Maybe even break the fourth wall. But most of all, hold nothing back. If you can do that, Muppet fans everywhere will remember you and love you forever. And I’m sure we will. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a honey butter biscuit to enjoy. (Epilogue: It was tasty, but rather dry.)
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by Matthew Soberman