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The Muppet Movie(1979)
They're irreverent, irrepressible, and downright irresistible. They're the Muppets! -- starring in their first full-length movie. See how their meteoric rise to fame and fortune began: with a rainbow, a song . . . and a Frog. After a fateful meeting with a big-time talent agent, Kermit the Frog heads for Hollywood dreaming of showbiz. Along the way, Fozzie Bear, the Great Gonzo, and the dazzling Miss Piggy join him in hopes of becoming film stars too. But all bets are off when Kermit falls into the clutches of Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a fast-food mogul seeking to promote his French-fried frog-leg franchise!
For more about The Muppet Movie and the The Muppet Movie Blu-ray release, see the The Muppet Movie Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 12, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton, Jerry Nelson
Director: James Frawley
» See full cast & crew
The Muppet Movie Blu-ray Review
The lovers, the dreamers and me, all of us under its spell...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 12, 2013
The first, some would argue best Muppets movie could have easily been the last. On-set tensions between director James Frawley and producer Jim Henson could have spilled over into the film. Henson's hand-stitched felt puppets could have failed to make the transition from the cozy confines of a television room to the revealing expanse of the big screen. Faithful Muppet Show audiences could have simply stayed home. The show was free, after all. No ticket required. Or, with some 50% of households watching less television in 1979 than in previous years, fans who did venture out and buy a ticket may have numbered in the thousands rather than the millions. In fact, unlikely as it may seem now, The Muppet Movie could have been a franchise-tanking box office bomb.
The Muppet Movie wasn't destined to be the fabled last ride of Kermit and the gang, though. Far from it. Catapulting to $70 million at the domestic box office thanks to enviable buzz, consistently positive reviews and enthusiastic word of mouth, it was a resounding validation for Henson and company that paved the way for five additional feature films. (Although none would have the same impact or financial success as the original. Even the well-received, highly praised franchise revival, The Muppets (2011), which earned $158 million worldwide, doesn't touch the The Muppet Movie's box office take when adjusted for inflation.) Nearly thirty-five years after its release, The Muppet Movie hasn't aged as gracefully as other late '70s classics. Its laughs aren't as sharp, and its cameos and fourth wall comedy don't pack as much punch. But from the moment Kermit plucks the first few notes of "Rainbow Connection" to the song's triumphant return later in the film -- "Life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending, we've done just what we've set out to do!" -- the original Muppet classic delivers the same joy, inspires the same wonder and boasts the same warmth it did all those years ago.
The Muppets' first theatrical adventure goes all the way back to the beginning. Before it was time to play the music, light the lights, or get things started... sing along: "on the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational, this is what we call The Muppet Show! Back to a time before fame and fortune found the Muppets; when Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) had a chance encounter with a Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) and set out from his swamp in the south to become the most successful frog in showbiz. Before meeting failed stand-up comedian Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz). Before Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Animal (Oz). Scooter (Richard Hunt). Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz). Rowlf the Dog (Henson). The inseparable Bunsen and Beaker (Golez and Hunt). Before Miss Piggy (Oz). But as we soon find out, Kermit and the Muppets' meteoric rise didn't come easily. Kermit had to first evade obsessive restaurant owner Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) and his right-hand man Max (Austin Pendleton), acquire a reliable set of wheels to make the trip, escape the clutches of an evil German scientist (Mel Brooks), overcome every obstacle in his path, and eventually make an impression with studio exec Lew Lord (Orson Welles). The rest, as they say, is Muppets history.
Along the way there are cameos aplenty -- Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, James Coburn, Elliott Gould, Milton Berle, Madeline Kahn, Edgar Bergen, Carol Kane, Telly Savalas, and Cloris Leachman, among others -- and self-referential, oh so self-aware humor without end, including enough mad meta mindedness and film-within-a-film gags to make The Muppet Movie a distinctly Muppety Muppets movie. (There's even a convenient copy of the screenplay floating around.) Yes, the plot is as tissue-thin as they come. Yes, the human characters are infinitely more one-note than Kermit and his puppet pals. Yes, jokes that killed in the late '70s tend to elicit little more than polite smiles at times, unintended groans at others. And yes, young, impressionable Muppet fans won't be quite as enamored with The Muppet Movie as its they were with its pseudo-remake-slash-reboot-slash-sequel in 2011 (which features dozens upon dozens of callbacks to the original film you might not have noticed initially).
To all that, and really any complaint about the essence of a Muppets production, movie or series, I say this: every Muppet maniac worth his salt should scream, "yeah, so what!?" The Muppet Movie isn't for everyone, so let's dispense with that. No movie is, least of all one about a rusty bus full of puppets banding together to make it big in Hollywood. If you didn't already love Henson's zany progeny, this certainly won't be the film that spurs a dramatic conversion. The genius of the Muppets, though, has been, is and always will be its rejection of neat-n-tidy convention -- often despite its family friendly nature and off-the-wall lunacy -- and the big ol' heart every Muppet movie, for better or worse, richer or poorer, pins proudly on its sleeve. You won't find coldness or cynicism here, which is just fine by this lifelong fan. The day either one is allowed to step on the Muppet stage is the day I tip my hat, say "thanks for all the good times," and exit the theater. The Muppet Movie isn't the Muppets' finest hour (and a half), but it is a fantastic time at the movies, and it holds up... even when it doesn't.
The Muppet Movie Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Muppet Movie makes a long, hard trip through time and arrives at its Nearly 35th Anniversary celebration in style thanks to a smartly, respectfully (albeit not perfectly) remastered 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation sure to score extra points with Muppets diehards. The film is grainy, although not quite as garishly grainy as it's been in the past, meaning it's been subjected to some amount of digital manipulation. Fear not, though. Digital manipulation need not always be a four-letter word. Like anything else, it can be done well -- seamlessly even -- or it could be done poorly, given any number of factors including challenges presented by the film elements, inherent shortcomings in the original photography, or the worst of the worst, haphazardly implemented noise reduction (a la the recent release of The Sword in the Stone). Here, it's a little of the first, a little of the second, and -- I'm very happy to report -- not much in the way of the latter. Grain often has a nice, filmic texture, and typically doesn't impede the image in odd ways. Sometimes the grain field does look and behave a tad unnaturally, suggesting Disney's remastering didn't involve a quick and easy cleanup, but rather a more involved top-to-bottom overhaul.
Fortunately, the good far outweighs any bad that appears, and the overhaul is much more a blessing than anything resembling a curse. Colors are lovely, with notable saturation and largely natural skin (and felt) tones. Primaries are bright and confident, with reds that exhibit some exciting pop. Black levels are satisfying on the whole (minus several nighttime shots that haven't aged well), and contrast has been dialed in carefully and capably. Detail is impressive too, with refined edges and a variety of revealing textures and closeups. (You can even spot the razor-thin wires that hold up Kermit's bike.) There's plenty of softness to be had, of course, and even some hazy, diffusiveness. But all of it thankfully traces back to Isidore Mankofsky's photography, nothing more sinister. (Only a handful of shots and scenes could be called eyesores, and nothing out of the ordinary for a catalog release of a 1979 production. So no major loss.) Moreover, artifacting, banding and aliasing aren't at play. Only minor crush (that mainly creeps in during Kermit and Piggy's date and the gang's campfire sing-along), infrequent ringing (the worst of which haunts Doc Hopper during the final showdown) and a very small selection of shots plagued by negligible print damage are even worth mentioning. Long story short? Disney has given Kermit and The Muppet Movie ample opportunity to stand on their own two feet, and the results are worth some celebration.
The Muppet Movie Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track sadly isn't a remarkable lossless mix, or even the joyous celebration I expected. Prioritization and clarity are a bit sticky; lines are sometimes tinny or buried, effects are hit or miss, and the soundtrack's instrumental music is occasionally muffled (the worst of which occurs right at the outset, as the camera pans down on the studio lot). But, overall, front-heavy and unimmersive as it can be, it's a solid offering that's generally faithful to the film's original sound design. Dialogue is generally clean and clear, without much in the way of hiss. LFE output is decent, adding some welcome slap to The Muppet Movie's slapstick. The rear speakers don't have a lot to offer, although the songs are fuller and more energetic than they've ever been before. Beyond that, there isn't much to report. The Muppet Movie sounds fine, but little more. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
The Muppet Movie Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Muppet Movie Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Muppet Movie -- rightfully labeled The Original Classic -- is a blast from The Jim Henson Company past. Dated though it may be, there's a timeless quality here that continually taps into an ageless, childhood joy, even some thirty-five years after its debut. Disney's Blu-ray release showcases that timelessness and agelessness well, even if I'm sure we'll see a more definitive version emerge come the film's 40th Anniversary. If you're willing to wait for 2019, go ahead; bypass the Nearly 35th Anniversary edition and hold out hope for a full and perfect restoration and a more extensive supplemental package. Otherwise, enjoy Disney's (mostly) impressive video presentation and decent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and look ahead to where the Muppets are going next. Even if this is as good as a Blu-ray release of The Muppet Movie ever gets, it's good enough -- and then some -- to warrant a spot in your collection.
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