Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Mel Brooks, Milton Berle, Dom DeLuise, James Coburn, Orson Welles
Extras: Jim Frawley’s Camera Test, Muppetisms, Bonus Trailers
"The Muppet Movie" offers the plot device of having a movie-within-a-movie, and opens with Kermit the Frog and the rest of The Muppets sitting down to watch the premiere of "The Muppet Movie", which will tell the story of how The Muppets first came together. The scene then switches to a helicopter shot of the Florida Everglades, which then transitions into a long tracking shot closing in on Kermit the Frog. (As The Muppets were best known for their television show, director James Frawley immediately lets the audience know that "The Muppet Movie" is going to take advantage of its "film" status). We see Kermit sitting on a log, playing his banjo, and singing "The Rainbow Connection." Kermit then meets a vacationing Hollywood agent (Dom Deluise), who informs Kermit that World Wide Studios is holding auditions for frogs. Kermit decides to leave the swamp and follow his show-business dream.
"The Muppet Movie" works today for the same reason that it was successful when it first premiered. For one thing, the film is genuinely funny. Sure, most of the jokes by writers Jack Burns (George Carlin’s former partner) and Jerry Juhl (who’s worked on nearly every Muppet project), are corny, and smack of Vaudeville, but you can’t help but laugh at them. The great thing about the humor is that it ignores the fact that animal puppets are delivering the lines, and plays as if everyday humans were giving the performances. Some of my all-time favorite movie lines come from "The Muppet Movie" and I still find myself quoting it today. Another great aspect of "The Muppet Movie" are the songs. While Paul Williams has long-since been the butt of many jokes, his music, along with lyricist Kenny Ascher, is upbeat and catchy, and most importantly, still sounds very fresh today. Mixing contemporary numbers with more traditional tunes, the songs in "The Muppet Movie" only add to the fun of the film. (I had the soundtrack on vinyl and I wore it out!)
"The Muppet Movie" DVD from Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment presents quite a mixed-bag in terms of quality. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer, and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. As this is a Columbia family title, a full-screen version of the film is also included on the flip side of the disc. This transfer fluctuates quite heavily in quality, and if I didn’t know better, I would think that it was culled together from two different source prints. At times, the image is sharp and crystal clear, showing no grain or distortion. But, at other times, the image is highly degraded. Take a look at Chapter 24 (specifically, the 1:22:14 mark) and see that the grain is so heavy that it looks as if a swarm of gnats has invaded the set. The majority of the film wavers between these two extremes, showing some grain, but ultimately being watchable. On the positive side, throughout the film, the colors remain rich and true, showing the very colorful Muppets in all of their glory. The <$PS,widescreen> framing appears to be accurate, and there are no overt problems resulting from compression.
"The Muppet Movie" DVD is certainly a disappointment in the bonus features department. We start off with "Muppetisms", which are three 30-second commercials featuring Muppet characters extolling the virtues of their catch-phrase, or "Muppetism". These short pieces feature Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Rizzo & Pepe (Okay…). While slightly amusing, these shorts are odd and I’d like to know where they originally ran. The only other true extra are director’s Jim Frawley’s Camera Tests (presumably to see how The Muppets would look on film). This 13-and-a-half minute feature does offer some good material, especially when Kermit and Fozzie are talking to a herd of cows, but it’s odd that it’s not accompanied by a commentary or at least an introductory paragraph to let us know when, where (it looks like the English countryside), and why this footage was shot. The DVD also contains bonus trailers for "Muppets From Space", "The Muppets Take Manhattan", and other Columbia family-fare.