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THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Muppets, Diana Rigg, Charles Grodin
Director:  Jim Henson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  Miss Piggy Profile
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  November 29, 2005

“Look, Dad!  A bear!”

“No, Christine, that’s a frog.  Bears wear hats.”

Film ****

When Jim Henson and the Muppets made the leap from the small screen to the big one, it was a calculated risk…and it paid off handsomely when The Muppet Movie became a huge hit.  So successful was it, in fact, that it clearly reaffirmed the artists’ faith in their creations for a follow-up film. 

The Great Muppet Caper boasted a new, fresh sense of confidence and braggadocio.  Henson as director and performer and his other team members threw caution to the wind, and worked every kind of magic their imaginations could produce.  The result is the funniest, most entertaining, and best film these lovable characters ever appeared in.

Kermit and Fozzie play identical twin (don’t ask) reporters, who take off for London on the heels of a big scoop after fashion designer Lady Holiday (Rigg) has her jewels stolen.  Mistaking Miss Piggy for Lady Holiday is just the beginning of the fun for Kermit and his friends!  Romance is in the air, but danger as well, as Lady Holiday’s irresponsible parasite brother, Nicky (Grodin) and a trio of models plot a more sinister caper:  to make off with Lady Holiday’s world famous Baseball Diamond and make Piggy the scapegoat!

That’s the bare essence of the plot, but it doesn’t come close to describe the magic and mayhem of this wonderful movie.  The Muppets are more lifelike than ever, as they climb walls, ride bikes (in scenes more daring than in the first movie), swim, take to the skies and more.  Some of these shots are not so easy to figure out how they were done…the ones that are only inspire a sense of marvel at how the filmmakers spared no expense or amount of work to make a scene a little better or a gag a little funnier.

But these “effects” only serve to make the characters even more real.  I always forget I’m watching puppets, and not creatures of flesh, blood, thought and emotion, which is the real Jim Henson legacy.  They all share the legendary creator’s wonderful sense of humor, too, as the laughs are big and practically non-stop, and encompass everything from running gags (“We’ll have to catch those thieves red-handed.”  “What color are their hands now?”) to physical bits (every setting in the Happiness Hotel, for example), to clever bits of juxtaposition.  Listen to the master thieves reading their equipment checklist, and then listen to our intrepid heroes for a howling sequence.

A great deal of the humor, though, comes from the self-awareness the Muppets have from frame one that they’re in a movie.   Right at the start, Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo comment on the opening credits, and throughout, there are plenty of little in-jokes that keep the fun alive.  My personal favorite?  After a Esther Williams styled water ballet, when Piggy spills a little secret about Charles Grodin’s performance:  “You can’t even sing!  Your voice was DUBBED!”

Of course, big named cameos add to the fun, just as they did in the first movie.  Look for John Cleese, Peter Ustinov, Jack Warden, and Robert Morley bringing a little panache to the piece.  And  no Muppet film would be  complete without a great song score.  Included here are the lively “Hey, A Movie”, “Stepping Out With a Star” and more, including the lovely Oscar nominated “The First Time It Happens”.  The latter also boasts an ambitiously fun production number, as Miss Piggy dances her way through a Busby Berkeley routine in a posh supper club that has our heroes scraping for cash.  “It’s sort of amusing,” the exasperated Kermit ponders, “that the roast beef is the same price as an Oldsmobile.”

I first saw this movie when it came out in theatres with my nephew…it was one of the best times I’ve ever had at the movies (I even have the Burger King glass that shows Miss Piggy on her motorcycle crashing through the gallery window). Since then, I’ve re-watched it more times than I could ever count, and it always works it’s magic on me.  I laugh til it hurts, and by the time it’s over, I’m ready to take the journey again.  And speaking of the time it’s over, don’t stop the disc while the credits roll…there’s a nice little touch at the end.

Family entertainment just doesn’t come any better than this.  The Muppets in their prime were amazing performers, and The Great Muppet Caper is their best work.  It never gets old!

Video ***

The only noteworthy problem with this anamorphic presentation (full frame also included) is during the opening and closing credits.  The film shows its age with a bit of dinginess on the print that’s really noticeable against the blue sky background.  Apart from that, the rest of the picture looks quite good, with terrific coloring, clean, sharp images and good detail.  I can now officially retire my old VHS copy of this movie without reservation.

Audio **

The 5.1 mix is decent, but not spectacular...it works mostly for the music, which sounds a little fuller and a little more dynamic than you may remember.  Most dialogue resides in the center channel, and sometimes the difference in the mix is noticeable when characters speak over pieces of music:  the voices sound a bit thin in comparison.  Overall, the soundtrack works fine and services the movie well…just nothing to get overly excited about.

Features *

The disc contains a "Pepe Profile" of Miss Piggy, which runs about 6 minutes.  I might have liked it better if not for the fact that Pepe is my least favorite of the Muppet characters.

Summary:

The Great Muppet Caper has it all…music, comedy, romance, excitement, spectacular dance numbers, amazing technical achievements, a great cast of well-known and loveable characters, and a pig on a motorcycle.  Entertainment doesn’t get much better than this…this is the Muppets at the top of their form.   Highly recommended.

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