In his 2013 biography of Jim Henson, Brian Jay Jones notes that early in the cultivation of the Muppets, the creative team struggled to write for Piggy because "[t]he whole Muppet Show conceit is based on [the] concept of family," but Piggy had a tendency to "demand things that are quite outside of the family." Henson's team did, of course, eventually figure out how Piggy's character could be held in tension with the show's guiding metaphor.
But since seeing Muppets Most Wanted, I've been considering this as a starting place for viewing the latest film. The Muppets have always been about family—a group of dreamers bound by misfit bloodlines. But as with any family, it's worth asking what holds it together.
Near the beginning of Muppets Most Wanted, all of the recognizable Muppets have a meeting with a talent manager named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) about how their next career step might be a world tour. Badguy assures the group that it's pronounced bædgee ("It's French! Meaning: 'good man!'").
It's a setup scene that includes some clever exposition, but that's also enjoyable for what the image's composition conveys. Badguy sits alone on one side of the table, attempting to lure the Muppets to accept his representation; the other side of the table is overrun with Muppets, sitting together and hoping to interact in unison to make a collective decision. That visual incongruence suggests that the Muppets think of themselves as family, and also implies the plight and manner of the Badguy.
Yes, Badguy is a bad guy—the #2 to his boss, Constantine, who is not only the world's number one criminal, but also Kermit's doppelgänger. If Badguy can convince the Muppets to follow his lead, then the two villains can use the tour as a cover to steal an enormous diamond.
Kermit is initially skeptical that Badguy's promises will be ultimately helpful. But, easily manipulated by Badguy's sweet-talking, the rest of the group resists Kermit and are hooked into committing to a world tour.
Trying to ensure that the first show in Berlin is a success, Kermit has to turn down most of the Muppets' bad ideas for comedy sketches and performances. Frustrated, he goes for a walk (at Badguy's leading request) and is confronted by Constantine, who puts a fake mole on Kermit in the midst of an assault.
With the mass on his right cheek, Kermit becomes indistinguishable from the world's most-wanted criminal and quickly finds himself imprisoned in a Gulag under the watchful eye of a guard named Nadya (Tina Fey). Meanwhile, Constantine colors over his mole and replaces Kermit in the Muppet Show. The family of Muppets is steadfastly unsuspecting, in part because Constantine allows them to do whatever they want—something that should be a dead giveaway.
In several senses, Muppets Most Wanted is a fitting sequel to The Muppets and, by extension, The Muppet Movie. Most Wanted knows it's a sequel and announces as much with its opening song ("We're doin' a sequel!"). This opening number makes it clear: this movie knows its movie history. It visually references the rainbow connection, a vital part of the Kermit-inspired Muppet identity: inspired lovers and dreamers. And Walter—the central protagonist Muppet introduced in The Muppets—is an active presence here. A couple of jokes are also made at his expense (and at the first movie's expense, too).