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I am not ashamed to admit that I have been a Muppet fan since childhood, through my teen years and even into adulthood. There is something universally appealing about the Muppet because, although seemingly wholesome and intended for kids, there is a level of sophistication to the characters and a wry sense of humor. Every one of the Muppet characters has a unique personality that sometimes makes them seem like real entities, instead of bits of foam, plastic, cloth and wires. I don't know how many times that I've found myself on the floor laughing at the exploits of Miss Piggy, whose appearances on interview and awards programs turn out to be even more hilarious than her scripted parts in movies. That's not to say that she isn't rib tricklingly funny in every one of the Muppet feature films.

THE MUPPET MOVIE ($20) is the first of the many films, which brought the creations of the late, great Jim Henson and company to the silver screen. The plot of THE MUPPET MOVIE is a zany account of how the Muppets first united on a trip to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune. As the film opens, we find Kermit the Frog in the swamp, where he encounters a Hollywood agent who inspires him to pursue his dreams in the "real" land of make believe. On the road, Kermit meets up with Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and various other Muppet characters, who also share a similar dream of stardom in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Kermit's talent attracts the unwanted attention of Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), who relentlessly pursues Kermit across country in an effort to convince him to become the spokesman for the Doc's chain of restaurants, which specializes in French Fried Frog's Legs (yuck). Part road movie, part chase film and all fun, THE MUPPET MOVIE remains as fresh and funny as it was when it was released in 1979. The talents behind the Muppets include Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt and Dave Goelz. And, in hilarious cameos, THE MUPPET MOVIE also features Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles and Paul Williams.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made THE MUPPET MOVIE available in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 playback. A cropped presentation is also available on the other side of the disc, but the comments in this review will pertain to the wide screen version of the film. Although slightly soft, the image on the DVD would appear to be a fairly accurate representation of the film's original photography, budgetary constrains and the film stocks used for the production. Don't get me wrong, the transfer does provide decent levels of sharpness and detail, but there is a limit to what can be squeezed out of the existing film elements. Overall, the picture is very nice and highly watchable, but certainly not something one would use to show off the DVD format. Most of the colors appear pretty solid, offering good saturation and realistic flesh tones on the human performers. However, there are some shots where the hues seem a tad subdued, but not really faded. Blacks appear accurate and the contrast seems fine throughout the presentation. Shadow detail is a bit wanting, but I'd have to attribute that to the limitations of the original production. The film element used for the transfer displays a fair amount of blemishes and continuously noticeable film grain. Neither is terrible, but nothing short of newly restored film elements and digital cleaning is going to alleviate these problems. Digital compression artifacts never make their presence known during the film.

For this release, THE MUPPET MOVIE includes a newly mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The mix gives the soundtrack some additional breathing room, without sounding artificial. However, there are limitations in the original recordings, which prevent the kind of high fidelity sound, one finds in newer films. Mid-fi is about the best way to describe the soundtrack. Still, the re-mix is competently done and the film's musical component sounds pleasant enough. Most of the sound is localized to the forward soundstage, with occasional surround usage. Much of the time, the track does come across as monaural, but there are some directional effects to snap things to life. Dialogue is crisp and fully intelligible, so one is unlikely to miss any of the jokes or bad puns that crop up during the story. If the bass channel was active, I really couldn't detect it. French and Spanish monaural soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and scene selection features, as well as a few extras. There is a thirteen-minute segment entitled Jim Frawley's camera tests, which allowed the filmmakers to ascertain the feasibility of filming the Muppets in a less controlled environment than a soundstage. Although a technical exercise, the camera test benefits from Jim Henson and Frank Oz's improvisations for Kermit and Fozzie. Also on the DVD are Muppetisms, which are brief television spot that feature the characters in mildly humorous "message" moments. Although no trailer for THE MUPPET MOVIE is present, the DVD does include bonus trailers for other Columbia TriStar titles marketed to kids.

As a Muppet fan, I think THE MUPPET MOVIE is still a whole lot of fun. The DVD looks and sounds nice enough that fans will want to pick up their own copies of the film on disc.


 The Muppet Movie


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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