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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: The Muppets

March 18th, 2012

The Muppets - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or Wocka Wocka Value Pack

The Muppets have lasted around 40 years starting as a TV special in 1974. However, as a franchise, it has been neglected for the past decade or so. When it was announced The Muppets would return to the big screen in more than a decade, there was a lot of excitement, but also a lot of trepidation. Would the series return to hits heights from the 1970s and 1980s? Or would it be mired in the doldrums of the 1990s and 2000s?

The Movie

The film begins with Walter describing his childhood growing up in a small town with his family. He and his brother Gary were always the best of friends, but as a felt-based person, his life is sometimes hard. However, when he first sees The Muppet Show on TV, he becomes their biggest fan.

Flash forward to today, and we see the adult Walter and Gary getting ready in the morning. It's a big day, because Gary is taking his girlfriend, Mary, to Los Angeles for their tenth anniversary. Walter wants Gary to send him a postcard from the Muppet Studios, but that's when Gary gives him the big surprise; Walter's coming with them. That's not much of a romantic trip. When they get to Los Angeles and see Muppet Studios, it's broken down and a shadow of its former glory. Walter sneaks away from the tour to see Kermit's old office. While there, someone comes into the office and he hides under the desk. It's Statler and Waldorf, who are selling the studio to Tex Richman. They think he's going to build a museum to the Muppets, but after Statler and Waldorf leave the room, he tells his two assistants that he's really going to tear the place down and drill for oil.

Walter reacts poorly. After finally coming back, he tells Gary and Mary what he heard. Walter says they have to find Kermit; Kermit will know what to do. But when they find him, he doesn't know what to do. It would take $10 million to save the studio and the only way to raise that much money is to put on show, which is something he hasn't done in years, and Kermit doesn't even know where the old gang is. After a bit of convincing, Kermit decides it's time to reunite with the old gang and put on a show. But first he'll need to find them, and he'll need help from Walter, Gary, and Mary to help. They find Fozzie singing in a dump in Reno, Gonzo running the largest plumbing supply empire in the Rust Belt, and most of the rest in a montage. Well, everyone but Miss Piggy.

It seems the relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy ended on a really sour note, and despite her obvious love for Kermit, she can't go back with him, even if it is just for a show. Will they convince her to return? Will they need to find a replacement? Will they get the show on TV and earn the $10 million they need to buy back the studio? Or will Tex Richman see the error of his ways and give the studio back? Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch.

I was a little worried about The Muppets when it was first announced. I was worried it would be a re-boot made solely to cash in on an established franchise and the people making it wouldn't understand what made the original show and the early movies so great. Jason Segel was a huge fan of the franchise and wanted to create something that could live up to the high point of the franchise. And he did it. This is the best Muppet movie since The Muppet Movie. It combines all of the elements needed to make a show like this work. It is a very funny movie and even some of the bad jokes will make you laugh. It has a lot of heart. You really feel for Walter and his desire to find his place in the world. The romance between Gary and Mary is a little corny, but that's a good thing. And of course, the story of friends that drifted apart and come together is a great metaphor for the movie itself. The film earned the Best Original Song Oscar for "Man or Muppet", but that is not the only great song in the movie, as there's a great mix of old ("Rainbow Connection" and "Mahna Mahna") and new ("Life's a Happy Song", "Pictures in My Head", the Tex Richman rap is humorously out of place, and there's even a chicken version of "Forget You", which is now my second favorite version of that song. My favorite is by Tally from Live2Tivo YouTube channel, which she wrote in response to the Atlanta Thrashers leaving). On a side note, "We Built this City" is now stuck in my head forever. Finally, the film has nostalgia going for it. If you grew up on The Muppets, this film will bring back a lot of memories.

So it has humor, heart, great songs, and nostalgia. What else does it need? Oh right, cameos. Lots and lots and lots of cameos. I literally lost track of all of celebrity cameos in this movie and there are more in the deleted scenes.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary with the director, James Bobin, and the co-writer, Nicholas Stollee, and the co-writer / star, Jason Segel. The three of them have a very difficult time staying on topic for more than a few minutes, but their random tangents are very entertaining. Scratching the Surface is a 16-minute making of featurette, which does live up to its tongue-in-cheek title, as it spends a lot of time goofing around rather than telling any information about the making of the movie. There are ten minutes of deleted / extended scenes, while the full version of the Tex Richman song is separate from the other deleted scenes. A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read-Through is a strange, three-minute screen test that is done in a narrative fashion. Finally, there are the Theatrical Spoof Trailers. Normally I don't consider the trailers to be real extras, but these trailers are so funny they are worth watching again and again.

The Blu-ray has a couple additional extras, starting with nine minutes of outtakes. There is also something called Intermission Feature. With this one, when you pause the film, there are funny gags that happen from Statler and Waldorf talking off screen, to the Muppets doing little gags, messing around with the intermission sign, and even clips from the making of featurette and the outtakes.

As for the technical presentation, it's practically perfect. The detail levels are incredible, the colors really pop, the blacks are as deep as you could ask for, the contrast is spot on, etc. And there are of course no compression issues or print damage. The audio is clear and immersive. Because it is a musical, it is important that the songs surround the viewer, but even in the quieter moments there are a lot of ambient sounds. And in the louder moments, the bass gets to play an important role.

Finally, we get to the price. The DVD is $16.99 while the Blu-ray Combo Pack costs $6 or 35% more, which is a good deal given the audio / video presentation and the exclusive extras. Meanwhile, the Wocka Wocka Value Pack comes with a digital download of the soundtrack, and it is definitely worth paying the extra $7 for.

The Verdict

As I said, The Muppets is the best Muppets movie since The Muppet Movie and it is one of the best films from 2011. (Seriously, it's better than most of the films that earned Best Picture Oscar nominations.) Both the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack are worth owning, while the Wocka Wocka Value Pack is Pick of the Week material.

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