The mostly-true story of how the Muppets met and became rich and famous is told in flashback. Features the voices of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, and Jerry Nelson. Also stars Charles Durning. Cameos by Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, James Coburn, Paul Williams, Mel Brooks, and others.
Directed by James Frawley
First, let me say right off the bat: I am a Muppet fanatic. Like most kids, I grew up with Sesame Street, but the Muppets in particular always struck a chord with me. The original trilogy of Muppet movies were some of my favorites, and in my mind, the wave of nostalgia that has led the recent Muppet revival couldn’t have come any sooner.
The release of The Muppet Movie in 1979 was met with much fanfare, and was part of a wave of Muppet mania that carried The Muppet Show through six successful seasons on CBS from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Unlike today’s version of the Muppets, that rely on the latest pop-culture references and hipster humor, The Muppet Movie relied on old-school vaudeville humor to deliver the jokes. The cameos include popular comedians of the time (Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks) as well as some classic actors who will likely go unrecognized by younger viewers (including Bob Hope, Orson Welles, and Milton Berle). Still, it’s a nice nod to the pioneers of comedy that inspired the film’s humor. In fact, Edgar Bergen, who appears with his Muppet forerunner Charlie McCarthy, died a few weeks after filming his cameo, and the film recognizes him in the credits.
With TV directing veteran James Frawley behind the camera, we get an inventive, genuinely funny movie that holds up over time. That assumes, of course, that you find witty banter funny. If Adam Sandler or Dane Cook is your idea of funny, you’ll likely hate The Muppet Movie. Sure, the movie is full of puns, but at least they’re funny puns.
The film was meta before it was cool. The Muppet Movie begins with the little felt people gathering to watch The Muppet Movie, a film they made about their own origins. In the movie within the movie, Kermit often breaks through the “fourth wall” and speaks directly to the audience. When Kermit and the gang get lost in the desert, Dr. Teeth finds them by reading the movie’s script. Thankfully, it never gets too clever for its own good.
Because the jokes don’t necessarily come at machine-gun speed, some might find it slow at times, but it is helped with some fantastic music. Even the romantic or soulful songs connect, and it is a tribute to the musical genius of Paul Williams, who earned two Oscar nominations for his work (Best Song for “Rainbow Connection” and Best Score). Williams himself plays the piano player at the El Sleazo, where Fozzie performs.
The special effects deserve particular credit, as they were done completely without the aid of CGI. The scene where Kermit rides a bike is still amazing to watch, even if the Blu-ray makes it possible to see the wires at times. Someone spent a lot of time having to figure out how to make that work, and it didn’t involve a Mac. In fact, much of the charm of the film involves watching the movie magic they pulled off, including Muppets dancing on a stage full-figured and driving cars. Fun fact: Jim Henson sat in a 50 gallon oil drum submerged in a pond for a full day just to pull off the “Rainbow Connection” song that opens the movie.
The Muppet Movie became a classic film because it has a lot of heart and plenty of laughs. It isn’t snarky or sarcastic like so much of today’s humor. The cameos work better than they should, and the music is outstanding. Just try to watch the ending and not smile, as hundreds of Muppets appear to sing the final song, and a running gag from earlier in the film returns for one final laugh.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Fans of The Muppet Movie will likely remember that the video quality of previous VHS and DVD releases were less than ideal. Thankfully, it appears Disney did their best to remaster the film, as it looks far better than I’ve ever seen it. There is still some visible film grain, but the image overall has been cleaned up and the detail is fantastic. You can even see the imperfections in the Muppet felt, something you could never say about previous releases. If I found any down side to the video, it was the color correction. It seems the reds are a bit oversaturated; you can see it best when Animal’s red mane is on display.
The audio is an excellent DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio soundtrack, which is crisp and clear (for the most part), and sounds even better when the songs play. Parts of the soundtrack, however, still have a “canned” quality, which is likely the fault of the source material. There’s even a German 5.1 Dolby Digital mix on the Blu-ray, but no French or Spanish soundtracks, which is odd.
The best special feature on the disc is easily a never-before-seen camera test by director James Frawley, which consists of Frank Oz and Jim Henson walking and driving around the British countryside with Kermit, Fozzie, and Miss Piggy, ad-libbing conversations to see how they would look on-screen. Since the movie was produced by a British company, they were likely there for pre-production, which would explain the locale. The camera test lasts about 20 minutes, and it’s hilarious to watch these two masters at work. At one point, Kermit and Fozzie are talking at the edge of a pasture, and a herd of cows gathers around them to watch them perform.
A “Frog-E-Oke“ feature is a sing-along sequence with the songs “Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” and “Can You Picture That.” The songs are also used as the “intermission” feature, and play when you pause the movie.
The entire Doc Hopper commercial (only a portion is seen in the film) is also featured, as in a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer. A featurette from the previous DVD release is also included. Called “Pepe Profiles Present Kermit – A Frog’s Life,” it is hosted by Pepe the Prawn and tells the story of Kermit’s “career” using clips from the movie.
THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Overall score: 7.25
The Muppet Movie is a great family film, and the Blu-ray finally gives it the treatment it deserves. The camera test is the best extra, but I wish there were more behind-the-scenes material for such a classic film. It’s a minor gripe, however. To finally get this movie fully remastered in high definition puts this disc easily in the “buy” category.
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Running time: 95 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, German Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish, German
Special Features: Camera test, “Frog-E-Oke” sing along (and intermission feature), Doc Hopper Commercial, Teaser Trailer, Theatrical trailer, “Pepe Profiles Present Kermit – A Frog’s Life” featurette, Digital copy.
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment