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JOHN DENVER AND THE MUPPETS
Rocky Mountain Holiday

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  John Denver, The Muppets
Director:  Jim Henson
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Bonus Trailers
Length:  47 Minutes
Release Date:  August 26, 2003

“Guys, let’s start unloading the truck.”

“Yeah, get the refrigerator down!”

“The refrigerator??”

“Yeah.  I had to put my lasagna somewhere…”

Film ***

Like many around the world, I remember being saddened by the death of John Denver.  But I don’t think I ever considered how much I really missed him until I watched the Emmy nominated television classic John Denver and the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday.

Denver and the Muppets worked great together…a fact I didn’t fully appreciate until I started watching the new Columbia Tri Star DVD releases of The Best of the Muppet Show.  The always beaming self-proclaimed country boy and those lovable ragtag puppets from Jim Henson had a great rapport.  To understand it, you’d have to watch some of the other guest stars.  Paul Simon, another guitar strumming songwriting legend, looked painfully uncomfortable throughout his show.  With John Denver, it was a teaming as easy as any you could imagine.

Having done The Muppet Show and a famed Christmas special complete with album release, Denver reunited with his Muppet friends in 1982 to make Rocky Mountain Holiday.  This hour long TV special boasted 16 songs (in fact, it’s virtually all songs with incidental dialogue) and brought the Muppets into Denver’s world; namely, some good old Rocky Mountain camping fun.

There’s no real story, per se, but the special has undeniable charm.  Some of the songs are forgettable, but the ones that aren’t are stirringly beautiful.  My favorite numbers included the sweetly haunting “Catch Another Butterfly”, the elegant “Poems, Prayers and Promises”, and the touching lullaby “No One Like You”.  For the camping traditionalists, there are also renditions of classics like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”, “Happy Trails”, “Down By the Old Mill Stream”, and an amusingly re-worked take on “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain”.  John and the Muppets sing “Home on the Range” with a rather impressive harmony arrangement.  And fans of the original Muppet Show will smilingly recall “Grandma’s Feather Bed”, which Denver performed on the show some years prior.

Will today’s kids enjoy it?  Hard to say.  As mentioned, some of the songs are strikingly lovely, but who can say if they would hit a chord with tykes weaned on purple dinosaurs mutilating nursery rhymes.  There’s not much story to follow, but there’s a sweet running premise of John Denver’s friendship with young Robin and how they helped bring out the best in one another. 

I guess John Denver’s earnest down home aura and Jim Henson’s childlike but immeasurable imagination were similar; each seemed to instinctively bring out the best in the other’s creations.  Both served as producers on this special.  And sadly, both were taken from us far too soon.

It’s a testament to both men’s magic that a special like Rocky Mountain Holiday could have so little story, such sparse dialogue, and still manage to cast such a charming spell.

Video **

Like most programs shot on video, this DVD offers a decent transfer of problematic source material.  While colors are good and well rendered, you can’t help but notice the occasional bleeding, or the once-in-a-while haziness (especially in darker scenes) sometimes inherent in a tape source.  It’s perfectly watchable, and as good as one could probably expect, but nothing more.

Audio **1/2

Likewise, the audio doesn’t boast anything spectacular with its medium dynamic range and very little in the way of stereo panning effects.  Nevertheless, the songs sound quite good, and since they’re the highlight of the program, it merits an extra ½*.

Features *

The disc contains three bonus trailers.

Summary:

John Denver and the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday is a modest but charming memory of two talented artists who are no longer with us and the magic they were capable of weaving in the most simple ways.  I can’t say how well it will please today’s kids, but I for one am glad to have this family classic on DVD.