After not appearing on the silver screen since 1999’s Muppets from Space, there was no surprise at the heightened level of anticipation that awaited the Muppets’ new film last year. And for many, The Muppets lived up to the hype, doing so well at the box office a sequel has been announced and earning an Academy Award for the song “Man or Muppet.” Yet, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. While I wouldn’t shout it down, like Statler and Waldorf, The Muppets is a middling affair that suffers from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s flawed script.
Gary (Segel) and Walter (a Muppet) are brothers and the main characters of our story, which is part of the film’s inherent weakness as the Muppet gang is relegated to supporting roles. The brothers grew up watching the Muppets and became huge fans, especially Walter. When Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) plan to go to Los Angeles for their tenth anniversary, they take Walter along so he can see Muppets Studios.
Unfortunately, the lot has been abandoned, and even worse, the buildings are going to be torn down so Tex Richman (Chris Cooper in a performance that will hopefully lead to the talented actor doing more comedy) can start drilling for oil. Of course, if the Muppets can raise $10 million before their contract runs out, they can keep it. But they are scattered about the world.
Naturally, Gary and Walter go looking for Kermit, who is inexplicably off living in a Bel Air mansion a la Norma Desmond from Sunset Blvd. When he learns the news, Kermit decides to get the gang back together so they can put on a show in order to raise the buyout amount. This leads to a number of admittedly amusing shenanigans, songs, and meta jokes that apparently all involved in the production hope would distract viewers from the plot problems as they bask in the warm thrill of nostalgia.
However, they bothered me. Now, I can overlook their not dealing with the human/Muppet-brother issue since that might disrupt the magic for the kids, though it seemed glaring. The biggest misstep is the idea that a telethon would accomplish anything. Sure, it’s a nice reference to the original TV series, but since people are only pledging money and not giving it to them through something like a Paypal account, they would still miss the deadline. But considering Tex changes his mind in the end as easily as flipping a switch, a well-crafted story couldn’t have been the writers’ goal so much as just seeing their old favorites back on the big screen.
For those who enjoyed the film, the Wocka Wocka Value Pack is the way to go. The set comes with a Blu-ray, a DVD, a digital copy, and a code to download the original soundtrack.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer does an excellent job bringing the bright, colorful world of the Muppets to high definition. The entire spectrum is well represented and pops off the screen. Blacks are rich and shadow delineation is strong. Details are outstanding, evident in the textures of the different Muppets, from felt, to feathers, and fur. And the humans look good as well, exhibiting consistent skin tones throughout. The only flaws I noticed were ones, like the intentional white spackle on what is supposed to be older footage.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 equals the video in its presentation, so expect to see The Muppets on year-end Best Blu-ray lists. Dialogue (expect for the Swedish Chef) is consistently clear. The songs reveal the track’s great dynamics as the music swells throughout the surrounds. Objects are well positioned throughout the soundfield and ambiance is immersive. The subwoofer rounds out things out by delivering powerful bass.
The extras can be found on the Blu-ray and all are in HD. Jason Segel, who was also a cowriter; co-writer Nicholas Stoller; and director James Bobin might be having more fun than the listener during the commentary track and it’s easy to see why as they talk about getting to work with these long-revered characters. They also act a bit silly as they talk about other films, like the ones cast members appeared in.”Scratching the Surface” (16 min) – Accurately subtitled “A Hasty Examination of the Making of The Muppets,” viewers are taken behind the scenes with the cast, real and Muppet, but they don’t reveal too much of the magic. “The Longest Blooper Reel Ever. At Least In Muppet History… We Think” (9 min; also appearing the DVD) is as advertised. “A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read-Through (3 min) is a brief sketch set during the film’s preproduction. “Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song” (3 min) shows the director made a bad choice because the complete version provides some context to why Richman has it out for the Muppets beyond making a buck. Cooper rapping is hysterical. Strip Mall Awards is the best of the eight “Deleted Scenes” (10 min) as Muppets look for a telethon host. The Muppets had an extensive marketing campaign and proof can be seen in the seven “Theatrical Spoof Trailers” (9 min), including two that were unreleased.
Setting aside the critical hyperbole, The Muppets is a pleasant family comedy that falls short of returning the characters to their full glory. The Blu-ray presentation is very impressive and should wow fans. I would have liked some coverage about what goes into making the Muppets work in the extras, but that probably top secret, and its absence is understandable.