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THE MUPPET MOVIE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Muppets, Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton
Director:  James Frawley
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  Profile of Kermit
Length:  95 Minutes
Release Date:  November 29, 2005

"I want to go to Bombay, India and become a movie star."

"You don’t go to Bombay to become a movie star!  You go where we’re going…Hollywood!"

"SURE, if you want to do it the easy way."

Film ***

What a friend kids like me growing up in the 1970s had in Jim Henson.  We may not have known the face, but we knew the work.  His magical Muppets came to life every day on Sesame Street, before Kermit the Frog and a new cast of characters broke out with their weekly prime time program The Muppet Show, still one of the funniest, freshest and most entertaining variety shows for my money.  Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and others became as lively a cast of characters as any human performers could be.  So real were their personalities that it was easy to forget we were watching simple hand puppets!

When the strain of a weekly show became too much, Henson set his sight on the big screen.  I can still remember what a major event The Muppet Movie was (at least if your age was a single digit number).  With more time and more resources, plus a pool of creative talent, the folks behind the Muppets showed us things we never saw on TV.  Kermit on a bicycle.  Gonzo in a hot air balloon.  Fozzie behind the wheel of a car!  Even more impressive, the opening shot of Kermit on a log in the swamp, playing his banjo and singing.   Where was puppeteer Jim Henson?  In a specially crafted miniature submarine, just below the surface of the water!

The Muppet Movie was fun for kids, but had plenty of humor for adults, too, including the hysterical film-within-a-film structure, possibly spoofing the likes of Truffaut’s Day for Night.  The witty script bubbled over with witticisms and self-parody.   The cameos by top name stars were funny and plentiful, and looking back, seems like a Hollywood who’s who list of the time:   Telly Savalas, Madeline Kahn, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Carol Kane, Milton Berle, Dom DeLuise, Steve Martin and more.

Purporting to be the story of how the Muppets got together and made it big (or, as Kermit said, “sort of approximately how it happened”), the film rolls and starts with one of cinema’s most memorable songs, “The Rainbow Connection”.  Soon, Kermit, at the prompting of an agent, sets out for Hollywood, picking up friends Fozzie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and more along the way.  En route, he makes an enemy of Doc Hopper (Durning), a sleazy southern businessman who has his sights set on making Kermit his new spokesfrog for his chain of French Fried Frog Legs joints!

That’s the story…but the plot is really only an excuse for Muppet magic, which is in full force here.  The humor, from the running gags, groaner puns and stabs at self awareness is terrific, as are the score and collection of songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher.  I remember when I first mentioned to an old friend this film was coming to DVD, we celebrated by singing aloud all the songs we could remember from it while driving through downtown Jacksonville:  “Moving Right Along”, “Can You Picture That”, and our personal favorite by Rowlf and Kermit, “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”. 

There are a few stretches that don’t quite work…consider them first-time film jitters from the cast and crew, who would return a few years later with a more confident and consistent effort, The Great Muppet Caper.  But overall, this is still a wonderful, fun film to behold.  I can only hope, considering the twenty plus years that have passed since its premiere, that it will still appeal to today’s kids as much as it did us, especially in this age of advanced computer animation and high-tech wizardry.  Will they surrender to the simplicity of skilled hands moving mouths and buy into the illusion that the Muppets are real?  It’s hard to say…but given the strength of Henson’s original magic, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Video ***

The Muppet Movie is looking quite a bit better these days, thanks to Disney's restoration.  There's still some noticeable grain here and there, but overall, the colors are brighter and the print cleaner looking.  There's a touch of softness here and there, but we're still talking a noticeable improvement.

Audio **

Likewise, the audio is palatable, but uninspiring.  The 5.1 track has a slightly more full sound than the 2.0 track (without any real use of channel discretion), but overall, the audio sounds as old as it is, with music and dialogue both thin and no dynamic range. 

Features *

The only extra is Pepe's Profile of Kermit the Frog.

Summary:

The Muppet Movie has arrived on DVD via the right studio, and is looking better than it ever has before.  It's a fun film for the whole family...I think a special edition release would still be very welcome someday.

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