The Muppet Movie: Anniversary Edition
What do you get if you cross a bug-eyed, banjo-strummin' frog, a wisecracking bear, a love-struck pig with delusions of grandeur, a brilliant script, astonishingly catchy music, and cinematography that occasionally borders on magic? Well, maybe arrested. Or you'll get The Muppet Movie (1979), one of the most charming and endearing films to claw its way out of the 1970s. The continuing appeal of the film is easy to understand after a couple of viewings. It's fun, but "fun" doesn't necessarily equate with "greatness." Rather, The Muppets offer an uncomplicated message of personal belief that transcends the sometimes stressful or unpleasant nature of everyday life. The film follows Kermit the Frog (voiced by the late Jim Henson), a simple fellow who lives in a swamp, passing the time by singing songs and catching flies, yet somehow he feels unfulfilled. A passing fisherman (Dom DeLuise), who moonlights as a Hollywood agent, encourages the talented frog to consider a career in show business. Kermit is still hesitant, until the agent mentions that Kermit's talent could entertain millions of people. Wanting nothing more than to share his gifts with the world, Kermit sets off for Hollywood (by bicycle, no less) to seek his fortune. Along the way, he meets a number of other friends, all of whom have the same dream. The most significant of these are the amiable Fozzie Bear (voiced by Frank Oz), whose dream of being a stand-up comic is not at all hindered by the fact that his act isn't the least bit funny; the lovely Miss Piggy (Oz again), who falls hard for the dapper Kermit; and the strange turkey-like Gonzo (Dave Goelz), a plumber who dreams of being
well, a plumber. But having nothing better to do, he tags along for the ride. One of the reasons The Muppet Movie works so well is that director James Frawley and screenwriters Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl treat the material with respect. The fact that our main characters are colorful fabric-covered puppets is incidental. Furthermore, the pacing is as tight as any live-action film each scene takes place in a new town, with a new adventure on the horizon. Granted, Kermit has more obstacles to face than the distance that separates him from his goal: The evil Doc Hopper (a fun performance by Charles Durning) and his assistant Max (Austin Pendleton) are pursuing our hero every step of the way, trying to force him into being the spokesfrog for Hopper's chain of French Fried Frog Leg restaurants. When Kermit resists, a professional frog killer (Scott Walker) is brought in to dispose of our little green friend. But again, director Frawley uses this to the movie's advantage: our heroes have to keep moving otherwise, they'll be captured. Cameo appearances though likely unrecognizable by contemporary children include Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, and Steve Martin (as a gloriously rude and abusive waiter). Moving right along
It's a good thing that The Muppet Movie itself is so charming, because Disney/Buena Vista's "Anniversary Edition" DVD (part of a series of re-releases celebrating Kermit's 50th birthday) doesn't exactly break new ground for fans. Neither the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) nor the full-screen version can hide the fact that the film hasn't been given any fancy remastering treatment certain scenes are quite grainy, and the colors sometimes look a bit washed-out. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (both English and French tracks are available, as are English closed captions) is strong (all the better to enjoy the big musical numbers), but the only extra, aside from a handful of trailers for other Disney titles, is a six-and-a-half-minute profile of Kermit (what happened to the behind-the-scenes bits from Columbia TriStar's previously released edition?). Hosted by a blinged-out Pepe the Prawn, the featurette is strictly fluff, offering "interviews" with Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the gang, but not doing much more than showcasing clips from the movie and offering celebrities like David Alan Grier the chance to wish the famous frog a happy 50th. Keep-case.