Thinking back on it, resurrecting Jim Henson's Muppets was a daunting task. Since purchasing The Muppets in 2004, Disney had done very little with the franchise in the way of television or film. The Muppets were alive and (sort of) well in Disney's California Adventure Park, but as far as a viable box office franchise, it was all but done with.
The last theatrical release in the franchise dated back to 1999 when the less-than-stellar 'Muppets From Space' was released. So, even though I loved The Muppets, remembering my fond memories I had of them from my childhood, when I heard Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller were reviving the series I had my apprehensions. Not that I didn't think it would be good, but I was worried about the welcome they might get. It had been over a decade since we'd seen any theatrical Muppet movie. A whole generation of kids had been born and grown up with only a few haphazardly thrown together TV specials. As a fan, I was nervous that no matter how good the movie was it would bomb. Thank goodness it didn't.
There's a genius at work here. Segel and Stoller didn't just count on the Muppet name to carry them through to the finish line, because they couldn't (See: Above). You don't become the highest grossing movie of a storied franchise by coasting along on name only. No, the reputation of The Muppets themselves had to be built back up. They had to appeal to the fans that were now grown up and had kids of their own, all the while appealing to those very same children. Segel and Stoller did well by focusing on the Muppets as we knew them from 'The Muppet Show' and not deciding to do some silly, nonsensical story like 'Muppets in Space.' Using this tactic they were able to draw in the older fans, playing with their sense of nostalgia. Then they brought in Bret McKenzie of 'Flight of the Conchords' to be a music supervisor. You can hear McKenzie's influence in almost every song, but his presence and songwriting ability really speaks to the younger generations. These few things allowed Segel and Stoller to bridge a generational gap making 'The Muppets' accessible to everyone who wanted to go see the movie.
Talking about the movie's plot seems almost needless, because discussing the movie's success and how it succeeded in the first place is much more interesting to me. However, for those of you who don't know, here's the gist. Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) is a small felt puppet who has grown up watching The Muppets on television. His older brother Gary (Segel) is his best friend. They're always hanging out with each other, which is why Gary sees nothing wrong with inviting Walter along on his anniversary trip to Los Angeles. Gary is taking his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to L.A. for their 10th anniversary and Gary wants Walter to come along so they can visit The Muppet Studios. During their visit to the studios Walter overhears a conversation where he learns that evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is going to take over the now derelict studios, tear them down and get to the oil buried underneath. However, there is a clause in the contract (isn't there always?). If Kermit and company can raise $10 million then they can get the studios back and everything will be right with the world.
That's a problem though, because the gang has long since split up and scattered across the globe. Kermit tasks himself with getting them all back together for one last show to save the studio. That's it. That's the movie in a nutshell. Much of the plot resembles the "let's all get back together" plot from 'The Muppets Take Manhattan.' That's okay though, because the entire thing comes across with a wink and a smile as the Segel/Stoller script pokes fun at itself along the way.
What's so fun about the way the movie plays is the fact that most of the jokes are timeless. They aren't buckled down by pop culture references that will only be found funny at this moment in time (there are a few of them but not many). Sure, the cameos might lose their luster, but jokes about how silly montages are will never get old.
The songs will also age well. They're rooted in the movie's story rather than the pop culture surrounding the time the movie was made. Besides chickens clucking "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green, the rest of the songs here will be found funny and enjoyable for years to come. The opening number "Life's a Happy Song" gets things going and establishes the hilarious, happy-go-lucky feeling that the movie is going to have. "Pictures in my Head," sung by Kermit, is unexpectedly emotional and immediately makes older fans reminisce about their fond Muppet memories. The Oscar-winning song "Man or Muppet" is the movie's crowning achievement and has the influence of Bret McKenzie basically oozing out of the speakers. Then finally we arrive, somewhere down the road, at the familiar "Rainbow Connection" as it ties everything together.
'The Muppets' was one of my favorite movies of 2011, because of the reasons I stated above, and so much more. It seems like a simple film, but if you think about it, the entire concept really shouldn't have worked. It had been years since The Muppets were actually relevant. They were being kept on life support by Disney's theme parks and a few television specials and YouTube videos here and there. Fortunately, Segel and Stoller showed us that the franchise wasn't dead. It was anything but. There's still a lot of comedy to be mined from these characters. In the right hands Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest could be endlessly entertaining. It just so happened that Segel and Stoller were the perfect people to take on this project. What a great movie. I'm smiling just thinking about it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This release is titled the Wocka Wocka Value Pack. It's a 3-disc release featuring a 50GB Blu-ray Disc, a DVD copy of the movie and a Digital Copy. Also, as an added bonus (which is really cool by the way), you get a special code inside, which is redeemable through Disney Movie Rewards, that allows you a free download of the movie's entire soundtrack. The back of the case indicates a Region Free status. The release does come with a slipcover that has some embossing on the front, but features the same artwork as the case.
It's a Disney release, so you and I pretty much expect a spectacular presentation, right? Well, the 1080p AVC-encoded video presentation doesn't disappoint in the slightest. Each scene features a brilliant, flawless transfer which has become synonymous with Disney Blu-ray.
Right out of the gate you'll notice the strong attention to detail. Every bump and tuft of Walter's felt is visible. The varied textures of the movie's countless Muppets appear impeccably rendered. Like you can almost reach out and touch them. From Fozzy's furry exterior to the wispy hairs on Animal's head, everything is visible. The detail doesn't stop with the Muppets either. Human faces have just as much fine detail.
Colors pop at every turn. With the various colors of Muppets traipsing across the screen there's no shortage of brilliant colors to look at. Blacks are deep and inky. Shadows are perfectly delineated. Human skin tones feature a perfectly natural hue.
This presentation features no artifacts or noise whatsoever. There are intentional blips and flecks during the opening sequence. As we see the early years of Gary's and Walter's lives the film is given an older look. White flecks pop up but they're intentionally inserted to make the film look aged. As their characters grow up the flecks disappear and we're left with a pristine looking transfer all the way through.
The video is rivaled by the awe-inspiring 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Truthfully, this is one of the best 7.1 mixes I've ever heard. The extra two channels on the sides are utilized wonderfully. With all the frantic action going on as Muppets scurry from one edge of the frame to the other, the sound moves seamlessly through the speakers. The side channels pick up loads of Muppet chatter and add another level for the movie's music.
From the opening number, the movie's soundtrack successfully fills every channel providing for an encompassing listening environment. The musical numbers have beautiful dynamics. Every word which is sung is clearly heard as it echoes through the entire sound stage.
Ambient sound is delightfully captured. The side speakers add a very natural ambiance to the proceedings. Chatter from Muppets can be heard during almost every scene. LFE is astute and abundant. Yes, even 'The Muppets' features a well-bodied explosion that will certainly rattle a few pictures on the wall.
Like the video, the audio is perfect. There's nothing about it that should be changed. This is a flawless sounding release all around.
Simply put, 'The Muppets' turned out to be one of my favorite films of 2011. If it has one fault it's that Pepe the Prawn is dreadfully underutilized. Other than that, It's a near perfect comedic effort from Segel and Stoller. They were able to take a franchise that hadn't been seen on the big screen in over a decade and create something timeless and successful. They revitalized an American institution and made it relevant again. I can't sing its praises enough. It's highly recommended for anyone who likes a good laugh. Now if you'll excuse me I think I'm going to watch it again.