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Muppet Movie, The: The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition
Release Date(s)1979 (August 13, 2013)
Studio(s)ITC Entertainment/Henson Associates (Disney)
Any member of Generation X who grew up with Sesame Street and the original Muppet Show must surely find it difficult not to love The Muppet Movie. I’ll certainly never forget the first time I saw the film in a theater… the quiet thrill I experienced seeing Kermit ride a bicycle or Fozzie driving a car – these things were inconceivable on the small screen, where the characters’ “legs” (which weren’t really there anyway as they were puppets) always seemed to be hidden by the bottom of the frame. For those who already loved these characters, their first big screen appearance raised the bar and our expectations. It also featured a slate of terrific songs and cameos by a who’s who of A-list acting and comic talent – Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Steven Martin and Richard Prior (among others) all in the same movie? Are you kidding me?! Add to all that a campy-great villain in the form of Pappy O’Daniel himself (Charles Durning, here playing “fog leg” magnate Doc Hopper) and what’s not to love?
The story, as Kermit himself explains, is “sort of maybe kind of how it happened” that The Muppets originally got together. Kermit is discovered in the swamp one day by a lost Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) who suggests that he should go to L.A. and pursue his dreams of entertaining millions. So he sets out on his bicycle and soon encounters the bear with the Studebaker, Fozzie, who wants to go along too. Together, they cross the country chasing their dream and, along the way, inadvertently end up recruiting most of the other Muppet familiars. Naturally, they’re pursued the whole way by the evil Doc Hopper, who wants Kermit to be the commercial “spokesfrog” for his French fried fog leg restaurant chain. The film is good hearted, charming, clever and just about as entertaining as they come. You really couldn’t ask for more from The Muppets on the big screen… and the sequels have been chasing this original film’s magic ever since.
I have to say, I was a little bit concerned when I first learned that Disney was going to release the film on Blu-ray. The studio’s record with their live action properties hasn’t always been exactly strong. Thankfully, I need not have worried – they’ve really done the film justice in high definition. Now… I know that there are going to be complaints in some quarters of the Interwebs about the transfer here, because there’s film grain. In fact, moderate film grain. But having seen this film in the theater, that’s just how it’s always looked – the grain has always been there and I personally have no problem with it being there. This just isn’t mean to be Pixar-like CG or shot-in-4K fare like The Hobbit. The important thing here is that detail is superb. Other than the occasional shot that’s optically soft, or where dissolves or other optically-created transitions are employed, you can see every nuance of texture in the character’s fabric costumes and felt skin. Color is vibrant, accurate and just as you’d want it to be. In fact, I was struck by the subtlety of tones you can see in some of the character’s faces, where flesh-tone felt has been airbrushed just slightly with rouge (Mrs. Piggy for example) or to enhance facial features. Contrast is also good with nice yet detailed shadows. The occasional stock shot (like the Yosemite footage in the “America” sequence) suffers a little – as they always do – but on the whole, I’m really happy with this transfer. The audio presentation is also very pleasing. This isn’t a film that goes wild with surround gimmicks, but the 5.1 DTS-HA Master Audio mix really does all necessary justice to the film’s soundtrack. The golden grooves of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem have never sounded so fannnnn-tabulous!
This film was previously released on DVD by both Sony and Disney, but really the only significant extras on those discs were a featurette about Kermit hosted by Pepe (Kermit: A Frog’s Life) and about 17 minutes of director James Frawley’s original Extended Camera Test footage. The good news is, both of those items are included here – and the camera test footage is all in HD. What’s more, you get the film’s original teaser and theatrical trailers, again in HD. Even better, you get the original film footage (yes, in HD!) of the Doc Hopper commercial seen in the film! And for the kids, there’s a “sing-along” feature for three songs from the film’s soundtrack. This also comes into use when you hit “pause” while watching the film – one of the songs comes up randomly as a sort of animated intermission. Even the disc’s menus are clever, looking like 2D-animations of the characters and scenes from the film done in felt. Nice touch. By the way, there are also preview trailers for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Blu-ray releases, among others.
I have to say, I still get a little lump in my throat whenever I hear the opening banjo strums of The Rainbow Connection. The Muppets connect pretty deeply with my childhood, so to see this film looking and sounding better than ever is a special thrill. I’m also pleased that the recent reboot film, The Muppets actually managed to recapture at least some of the original magic. (Thank you, Jason Segel.) With luck, Muppets Most Wanted (which hits theaters in March 2014) will be a worthy follow-up. Now if we could just get Disney to finally release the last two seasons of The Muppet Show on DVD, we’d really have reason to celebrate. Meanwhile, this Blu-ray is recommended.