The Muppets [Blu-Ray]
Director : James Bobin
Screenplay : Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Jason Segel (Gary), Amy Adams (Mary), Chris Cooper (Tex Richman), Rashida Jones (CDE Executive), Steve Whitmire (Kermit / Beaker / Statler / Rizzo), Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy / Fozzie Bear / Animal / Sam Eagle / Marvin Suggs), Dave Goelz (Gonzo / Dr. Bunsen Honeydew / Zoot / Beauregard / Waldorf / Kermit Moopet), Bill Barretta (Swedish Chef / Rowlf / Dr. Teeth / Pepe the Prawn / Bobo / Fozzie Moopet), David Rudman (Scooter / Janice / Miss Poogy), Matt Vogel (Sgt. Floyd Pepper / Camilla / Sweetums / 80s Robot / Lew Zealand / Uncle Deadly / Roowlf / Crazy Harry), Peter Linz (Walter), Jack Black (Himself), Alan Arkin (Tour Guide), Bill Cobbs (Grandfather), Zach Galifianakis (Hobo Joe), Ken Jeong (Punch Teacher Host), Jim Parsons (Human Walter), Eddie Pepitone (Postman), Kristen Schaal (Moderator), Sarah Silverman (Greeter)
The Muppet Show has been off the air since 1981, and the various Muppet characters that populated it, while having starred in more than a dozen feature films and television movies, not to mention various spin-offs in other media, haven’t graced the big screen since 1999’s ill-received Muppets From Space. Thus, The Muppets, their franchise-reinvigorating return to cinema, is built around a clever, self-reflexive concept: The Muppets are washed up, over, yesterday’s news, forgotten. Of course, for the legions of kids who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s with the delightfully low-tech band of felt puppets created and brought to life by Jim Henson (myself included), the Muppets never disappeared entirely from their pop-culture-addled consciousness. And The Muppets, with its mixture of nostalgia, postmodern humor, and all-around generosity, may be exactly what was needed to endear them to a whole new generation. And, if that doesn’t work, it will at least tickle those who know and love them.
The script for The Muppets was penned by self-described Muppet fanatics Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, who previously collaborated on the script for the very R-rated comedy Get Him to the Greek (2010), which Stoller also directed. Segel had previously alluded to his love of puppetry in the also very R-rated comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), which he wrote and starred in as a romantically challenged composer who dreams of writing an all-puppet rock opera version of Dracula. Alas, Dracula will probably forever exist only as the fragment we see at the end of Sarah Marshall (man, would I love to see it in its entirety), but The Muppets does allow Segel to indulge his long-time Muppet adoration, which is only fitting given the cultish devotion the show engenders among its fans.
The movie introduces us first to brothers Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (Peter Linz), the latter of whom is clearly a Muppet although everyone treats him like he’s a regular person. Because Gary is so dedicated to his brother, he takes Walter to Los Angeles with him even though the trip is ostensibly to celebrate Gary’s 10-year anniversary with his sweet, long-suffering girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). Their main goal in Los Angeles is to visit the famed Muppet Studios, which has fallen into bleak disrepair and serves as an all-encompassing metaphor for the Muppets’ fading from the limelight over the past decade. What’s worse, Walter overhears the plans of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an evil oil tycoon (is there another kind?), to buy the studio out from under the Muppets and demolish it in order to drill an oil well. So, what’s a Muppet to do but seek out the rest of the Muppets, get the old gang back together, refurbish the studio, and stage a telethon to raise the $10 million needed by the stroke of midnight to get the studio back.
That, in a nutshell, is exactly what happens, and it turns out to be the perfect plot mechanism for older audiences to indulge their nostalgic memories of the hectic, varied pleasures of The Muppet Show and newer audiences to get acquainted with the likes of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and the rest of the troupe. Just about every Muppet imaginable makes it on screen at some point, and the only real disappointment long-time fans might feel is in the fact that not all of them are given their own set pieces (I, for one, was disappointed that the Swedish Chef didn’t get more screen time, but I realize that giving every secondary Muppet his or her own sequence would result in a movie of too many hours).
Director James Bobin, who previously worked on the cable comedy shows Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show, makes the wise decision to keep the film’s style classical and low-tech, which means there are no CGI Muppets or anything on screen that couldn’t have been done in 1979. We do get several big musical numbers, some of which soar (the climactic repeat of “Life’s a Happy Song” for example, or the wistful restaging of “The Rainbow Connection”), while others feel forced (I get the idea, but having Chris Cooper rap about his evilness was just awkward). The jokes come fast and furiously, just like they did on the original Muppet Show, and most of them work marvelously.
The Muppets have always been a clever conceit in that they constantly upended show-biz conventions and pulled the curtain back to reveal the mechanics of entertainment (what was The Muppet Show, after all, but a backstage exposé of a misfit variety show?) while never questioning the idea that a bunch of felt puppets were “real,” which is why they could interact so seamlessly with human celebrities. The Muppets holds true to that worldview, and even if some of the satirical jabs at today’s entertainment (particularly a reality show called Punch Teacher and the aforementioned Chris Cooper hip-hop number) are some of the movie’s weaker points, the film still works marvelously as both a satire of show business and the perfect example of how there’s no business like show business.
|The Muppets The Wocka Wocka Value Pack Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy + Soundtrack|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 20, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Unlike the previous Muppet films, The Muppets was shot and edited entirely in a digital workflow, so the 1080p/AVC-encoded image on this Blu-Ray is a direct port of the digital files and looks flawless. The image is sharp, clean, and beautifully rendered to the point that you pick out the individual bits of fuzz on the various Muppet faces. Befitting the film’s fun, upbeat tone, colors are bright and cheery, although the darker sequences (such as the nighttime trip to Kermit’s mansion) boast strong, inky black levels and great shadow detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel surround soundtrack is also top-notch, with great separation and clarity. The various musical numbers are particularly dynamic, drawing you right into the middle of the song-and-dance.|
|For those interested in hearing about the film’s production, the Blu-Ray includes an informative and entertaining audio commentary by director James Bobin, actor/co-writer Jason Segel, and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, all of whom were recorded together and clearly had a good time doing so. After that, all of the supplements, like the movie, are situated within the Muppet universe and are designed primarily to be entertaining and funny, rather than informative. “Scratching the Surface: A Hasty Examination of Making Disney’s The Muppets” is a “behind the scenes” featurette that includes lots of jokey interviews with numerous Muppet characters, as well as the human actors. It is funny and clever, but you’re not going to learn anything about the actual making of the film. Similarly, “A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read Through” is an amusing featurette about the Muppet cast doing a read-through on the script with Jason Segel. Also on the disc is a longer version of Chris Cooper’s rap song and eight deleted scenes. The 8-minute blooper reel is, of course, not filled with actual bloopers since they involve Muppets “messing up” their lines and joking around, but it’s still frequently hilarious. Finally, the disc includes a new feature called “Disney Intermission” in which the Muppets take over your screen when you pause the film, rather than just freezing on a still image, and it also allows you to download the entire soundtrack via iTunes.|
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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