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DVD Reviews - Muppet 50th Anniversary Editions

January 25th, 2006

Recently, Disney released four Muppet movies on Anniversary Edition DVDs: The Muppet Movie - Buy from Amazon, The Great Muppet Caper - Buy from Amazon, The Muppet Christmas Carol - Buy from Amazon, and The Muppet Treasure Island - Buy from Amazon. Almost everyone knows about the Muppets and their movies, but do these DVDs do the movies justice?

This review doesn't have the same format as most others because there are four films under the same banner. Because there won't be a way to easily skip spoilers, they will be kept to a minimum while those that are unavoidable will be in white text so you'll have to highlight it to read them.

And now to the movies in chronological order ...

The Muppet Movie - Buy from Amazon
Synopsis: The first, and the best of the Muppet movies, it tells the approximate origins of the Muppet gang. The film starts with Kermet in the swamps singing Rainbow Connection when he meets a Hollywood agent played by Dom DeLuise (in the first of roughly 8 billion cameos in the movie). He puts the thought into Kermet's head that he should hop off to Hollywood to make millions happy, and that's just was he does. Along the way he meets a joke telling bear, an ambitious pig, a chicken obsessed thing, and plenty more interesting characters.
Review: This is a great Road Movie with all the charm the Muppet were originally known for (later movies seemed to lose this appeal, especially after the untimely death of Jim Henson). It also has the best songs, with both "Rainbow Connection" and "Movin' Right Along" instant classics; Paul Williams was at the top of his game for this movie. And yes, I did grow up on The Muppets, so nostalgia definitely helps. On the other hand, there is almost no plot, and the villain, a French Fried Frog Legs restaurateur, is almost superfluous to the film. With most movies that would be an unforgivable sin, but that's not a big problem here and actually adds to the film's charm.
Special Features: There's just a look at the life of Kermit the Frog, which is rather short at just 6:30, but is funny. It would make a great addition to a special features package, but as the only extra on the disc it is disappointing to say the least.

The Great Muppet Caper - Buy from Amazon
Synopsis: Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo lose their jobs as reporters and their only way to get them back is to travel to Britain and try to solve the mystery who stole Lady Holiday's jewelry. Once there they meet the usual gang of weirdoes at the Happiness Hotel, Kermit meets and falls in love with Miss Piggy (who pretends to be Lady Holiday to get closer to the reporter). But after she is framed for the jewel theft, it's up to the guys (and Janice) to save the day.
Review: This movie has a more in-depth and developed plot than the previous one, especially the heist scenes (seeing the two groups running through their respective checklists is one of the funniest scenes in the movie). But in nearly every other way this film suffers in comparison to that classic; the jokes are not as witty, the songs are not as catchy and the pacing that is not up to par. Even so, it is a fun movie to watch and worth a rental to most, and worth adding to your collection if you are a hardcore fan like myself.
Special Features: Pepe's Profile on Miss Piggy, like the Kermit profile. A mix of clips from movies, interviews with various characters, etc. It is a little shorter and the only special feature on the disc.

The Muppet Christmas Carol - Buy from Amazon
Synopsis: The Muppet version of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, which has been adapted countless times and is perhaps the most famous Christmas story ever. For those who have never heard the tale, it is about Ebenezer Scrooge, a vile and avaricious man who is visited by three ghosts who hope to change his ways before he it condemned to spend all of eternity in chains.
Review: First of all, I love the interaction between Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo, or as he is called in this movie, Charles Dickens. The plot is again more developed than the previous movies and the acting is better, which makes it feel like the fullest, richest, most dramatic movie in the set, although it doesn't have the same level of zany, corny fun of the other movies. However, it is the most faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel. Lastly, the songs are much better than in The Great Muppet Caper but not quite up to the standard set by The Muppet Movie.
Special Features: This DVD has the best set of special features, but even so it doesn't really live up to the Anniversary Edition label. First and foremost on that list is an audio commentary track with Brian Henson, the son of Jim Henson and director / producer of the movie. Unfortunately, it can only be accessed with the Pan & Scan version, as is the deleted scene. The audio commentary is very technical but not so much so that the tone is too dry to listen to and there are a few longer silent spells, but not so many that it loses effectiveness. Add in another Pepe's Profile (on Gonzo), some outtakes and a short look at Christmas celebrations around the world and it's is a pretty good package. However, I was disappointed with the outtakes. I've seen many behind-the-scenes bits from the Muppets and what is fascinating is the interplay between the characters. Not the puppeteers, but the characters. For instance, once Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire start doing Gonzo and Rizzo, they stay in character no matter what. So in between takes, or when one flubs a line, they act like any other actor would. The chemistry between the two is excellent and brightens anything they appear in, including the animated menus. I was looking forward to seeing more of that.

Muppet Treasure Island - Buy from Amazon
Synopsis: Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island come to life with Tim Curry as Long John Silver and the Muppet gang as various other characters. For those who have never read the story, it follows young Jim Hawkins as he searches for pirate treasure. Mutiny, betrayal, sword-fights, and the occasional musical number awake the lad on his journey. Arrr, matey!
Review: Very much like The Muppet Christmas Carol as it is an adaptation of a classic novel, but its execution wasn't nearly as strong. I think part of the problem was the mixing of the drama of the story and the general craziness of the Muppets. It's a dark story full of pirates, murder and betrayal, etc. and obviously they needed to lighten it up, but the right balance between the drama and the comedy was never found. Also, the acting is nowhere near as good as in The Muppet Christmas Carol with nearly every human on screen hamming it up every chance they can get, especially early on. Add in songs that are below par, and it is the weakest movie of the four. Even so, it is worth at least a rental.
Special Features: The last disc in this set contains just a short profile on Fozzie Bear. At this point, Pepe the King Prawn has more than worn out his welcome and these bits have lost their charm.

Conclusion: The Muppet Movie - Buy from Amazon and The Muppet Christmas Carol - Buy from Amazon, are worth adding to your collection even if you are a more causal fan of the Muppets. And the other two, The Great Muppet Caper - Buy from Amazon and Muppet Treasure Island - Buy from Amazon, should still appeal to avid collectors of all things Muppet. Of course, these avid collectors will find the paltry number of special features quite distressing. What could have been must-have DVDs were reduced to the point where I can't give them unqualified recommendations.

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