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THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Muppets, Juliana Donald, Lonnie Price, Louis Zorich
Director:  Frank Oz
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  June 5, 2001

Film ***

I always watch The Muppets Take Manhattan with a little bid of sadness.  Not that the movie isn’t buoyant, delightful, Muppet fun, mind you…it’s just the thought that this was the last Muppet movie before Jim Henson died (unless you count the 3-D experience at Disney World).  Henson was an artist who, at age 50, was taken from us far too soon, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m over-dramatizing here, but I’ve never felt the world was as good a place without him.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I thought The Muppets Take Manhattan was as good as its two preceding films…it’s not quite there (few family films are).  But this picture, even though they didn’t know it, marked the end of an era for the Muppets as they were.  In the years since, I’ve had mixed feelings about this lovable, ragtag bunch of puppets that always seemed as real as any human performer on TV or at the movies.  Part of me is glad to see Jim Henson’s vision did not die with him.  Another part of me has to deal with the fact that the Muppets have never been the same without him, going on to a string of mediocre movies and a so-so attempt to recreate their glorious variety show days with Muppets Tonight.  And Brian Henson, God bless him, is just no substitute when it comes to bringing Kermit to life.

So for more than a decade, I haven’t been able to watch The Muppets Take Manhattan with a clear and pure vision.   I enjoy the picture.  It has plenty of what I’d come to expect from a Muppet film, from the comedy hijinks to the cameo stars, to the great musical numbers (“Together Again” is as catchy as they come, and “Saying Goodbye” is amazingly touching).  With Frank Oz solely in the director’s chair for the first time, the picture offered some new takes on old ideas, such as writing the cameo roles first and then casting, so that stars like Dabney Coleman, Joan Rivers, Art Carney, Linda Lavin, and my two favorites, James Coco and Gregory Hines, actually served the picture a little bit more than if they had just given a simple walk-on appearance.  Kermit also got a chance to spread his flippers a little bit, with some cute costume changes and a bit of character acting.  His memory loss provides some of the film’s biggest laughs, including what he has to say to Miss Piggy about the prospect of being in love with a pig!

There is a good story to go along, too.  In The Muppet Movie, the Muppets were brought together by their dream of becoming film stars.   In The Muppets Take Manhattan, they play college graduates with a hit senior variety show and dream of taking it to Broadway.   Once again, the stage is set for musical numbers and a good message about working hard and following your dreams, though for me, I always have wondered what Animal got his degree in…

This is also the picture that introduced the Muppet Babies, who later became stars in their own right on a weekly animated show.   Their number is one of the most endearing scenes ever created by Henson and company!  Oh, and let’s not forget the wedding finale, the one that changed the course of Muppet history.  It really felt like a big special event that we fans were invited along for.

So yes, The Muppets Take Manhattan is a good film, and can’t be faulted for falling a little short of the earlier ones.   No Muppet film after this one would come as close.  Without Henson’s puppeteering, the wonderful Kermit was reduced to a supporting player in future projects, with comedy sidekicks Gonzo and Rizzo taking over the spotlight.  Their “triumphant return” to the big screen involved them all playing second fiddle to a human being, Michael Caine, in the role of Scrooge!

But as life gets harder for these beloved stars, as computer animation, Pokemon and Barney take today’s kids attention away from what we once considered so magical, we can always look back at the early days with fondness, and recall with great love what Jim Henson’s artistry gave us all, a gift that sadly ended with The Muppets Take Manhattan.

So here’s to you, Mr. Henson…we’ll see you again someday at the rainbow’s end.

Video ***

The presentation for this film on disc fares a bit better than the original Muppet Movie.  Colors are beautiful and well-rendered throughout, with no bleeding or distortions, and images are generally decently sharp and clear, with good detail.   Though the box purports to have an anamorphic widescreen presentation on one side and full frame on the other, they are actually both on the same side, using dual layer technology…a nice touch.

Audio **

This simple, straightforward mono mix is perfectly good if not overly exciting.  Everything is cleanly and clearly presented, from the dialogue to the music to the occasional audio effect.  No complaints.

Features **

The highlight of the disc is a series of interview clips with Jim Henson…thoughtful and intimate, as he addresses the camera with everything he has to speak about.  Did I mention how much I miss him?  There are also bonus trailers and some “Muppetisms” (the Fozzie one is quite cute).

Summary:

The Muppets Take Manhattan is good, spirited family fun in the grand tradition of the Muppets.  For those too young to remember these wonderful characters in their prime, I’m glad to see this and other classic films on DVD.  They’ll keep Jim Henson’s original vision alive for generations to come.