There have been a number of generations now who’ve grown up under the sway of Jim Henson’s Muppets. Since their creation, it’s become virtually impossible for a non-Amish child to have missed seeing Kermit the Frog and company through their movies, toys, and Sesame Street. And for the Muppets big return to cinema in 2011’s The Muppets, they’ve pitched the film to play to everyone who’s ever loved these characters. It’s a smart movie that mines nostalgia, but never does so in stupid or cloying ways. The Muppets co-star with Jason Segel (who co-wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller), Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Rashida Jones in a tale of getting the old group back together again to save the Muppet theater from an evil oil tycoon (Cooper). Our review of the Blu-ray of The Muppets follows after the jump.
The film starts with the newest Muppet Walter growing up with his brother Gary (Segel). Both love The Muppets, but for Walter it’s close to a religion. And when Gary plans to take his girlfriend Mary (Adams) to Los Angeles, he invites Walter along so he can see Muppet studios. They go on the studio tour, but everything is dilapidated, and when Walter breaks into an area he shouldn’t be in, he overhears Statler and Waldorf telling Tex Richman (Cooper) about how Kermit’s standard Rich and Famous contract is set to expire. When it does Richman plans to destroy the studio and drill for oil.
Walter feels he needs to alert Kermit the Frog about this and so they try to find his house, but once they do meet Kermit, it seems that he’s become something of a hermit and he doesn’t know what happened to the other muppets. But – after a musical number – he decides to hit the road and get the band back together with the goal of raising the ten million they need to extend the contract. He starts with Fozzie Bear and Gonzo, but he’s worried about confronting Miss Piggy, who’s gone to France to publish fashion magazines.
But even with the crew back together, they need to make that ten million, and they’re so out of the public consciousness that they’re finding few avenues of success. But fortune smiles on them when – as TV executive Veronica Martin (Jones) is telling them they’re no longer relevant – a big hole opens up in her schedule, and the Muppets have their shot. But even with a telethon on TV, everyone is rusty, and their old theater needs a good cleaning. Gary and Mary help out, but Mary thought Gary took her to LA to propose, and he’s been distracted by their quest, which leads to a fight. Walter is offered a part in the show, but he doesn’t know what his talent is.
Directed by James Bobin (best known for his work with Flight of the Conchords), the film lets you believe in the Muppets again, and it’s great to see everyone on screen. Many minor characters get cameos, and there are a number of references to the previous movies and episodes – the film is filled with a love for the material. If you’ve got a favorite non-Kermit non-Piggy muppet, you’ll probably be a little disappointed. Some characters, like Rolf, only get a moment or two, and most are relegated to the background – I love Fozzie and Gonzo, but here they only have so much to do, while Animal gets his biggest role yet.
But the film is so charming that the narrative deficiencies (of which there are many) don’t really matter. I really like the film, but it’s impossible not to note that they don’t really have an ending – everything gets wrapped up in the end credits somewhat off screen. On top of which the idea of the group doing a telethon is such a weird conceit – it works because it allows the Muppets to put on a show, and gives it the right stakes, but the idea of these famous characters asking for money doesn’t make a lot of sense in the grander scheme of things. But this is a movie, and it’s very aware that it’s a movie, so it never gets in the way of the emotional core.
The film’s biggest weapon is the music by Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. Kicking off with “Life’s a Happy Song” the film gets what makes for a good kids song, and it builds to the ingenious “Man or Muppet,” which won an Oscar this year. The music in the film is brilliant and funny (a hard combination) and it allows Chris Cooper to rap. It’s also worth noting while watching the film, the very idea of the muppets – their tactile qualities, and the shared imagination that comes from accepting something that’s phony – are treated with the upmost respect. You forget the hands and fall for the character. It’s hard not to love this film.
Walt Disney’s Blu-ray comes with a DVD, a digital copy, and a downloadable version of the soundtrack. The film is presented widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 master audio. The presentation is glowing. The film also comes with a commentary by director James Bobin, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. They mostly goof on the film, and Segel can’t help but name drop some of the cast member’s weirder roles. He also talks about Mac and Me. It’s a silly commentary, but they obviously love the film. If you pause the movie, it offers an intermission, which has the Muppets making jokes, and giving glimpses of the special features. “Scratching the Surface: A Hasty Examination of The Making of The Muppets” (16 min.) is done as a tongue in cheek making of, which is followed by a blooper reel (9 min.), and “A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read Through (3 min.), which seems to be a real screen test, but there’s no explanation for it. There were sections cut out of Tex Richman’s rap that explain that he can’t laugh, and the full version is included (3 min.).
The most interesting supplement of all is the deleted scenes (10 min.) which includes cut cameos from a number of comedians – some of whom showed up in trailers, and a number who didn’t. The film’s ending was obviously tweaked, but none of that material has ended up on this disc, and all of the cut footage was cut for good reason – it’s not that funny. The film had a number of parody trailers made for the internet, and seven are included with two unreleased – the first parodying Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the second referencing Fast Five. These trailers were very much of their moment, so in two years’ time, you may have to explain that there even was a Green Lantern movie. Bonus trailers are also included.