At first glance, it might seem odd that Disney decided to slam two seemingly unrelated Muppet movies onto the same disc – but when you consider the fact that both films are sequels to bigger hits that came before them, the relationship between the two movies makes a little more sense. 'The Great Muppet Caper' was the follow up to the very first big-screen adventure of the Muppets in 1979's The Muppet Movie, while 'Muppet Treasure Island' is the second (and only other) big-screen attempt of the Muppets to take on a literary classic, following 1992's A Muppet Christmas Carol.
'The Great Muppet Caper' is the first time a Muppet movie features them playing characters slightly different than their own personas, although here they retain their 'real' names. Kermit and Fozzie play twin brothers (one of the movie's ongoing running jokes) who are newspaper reporters, along with their photographer pal, Gonzo. They're assigned to go off to London to investigate a jewel heist from one of the country's most notable fashion designers, Lady Holiday (played by Diana Rigg). When Kermit goes to meet her, however, he runs into Miss Piggy instead – who tricks Kermit into thinking she's Lady Holiday. The mastermind behind the jewel heists turns out to be Lady Holiday's brother, Nicky (Charles Grodin), along with some disgruntled model employees of Lady Holiday. The finale consists of the Muppets trying to stop Nicky and the girls from stealing the priceless 'Baseball Diamond' from a London gallery.
'Muppet Treasure Island', of course, more or less follows the classic tale from Robert Louis Stevenson, with a lot of Muppet fun and modern-day humor thrown in (much as was the case with A Muppet Christmas Carol). This time around, however, Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat are participants in the story, rather than narrators of it – as they were in the 'Christmas Carol' film. Kermit gets the role of Captain Smollett, gender reversal allows Miss Piggy to take on the character of 'Benjamina' Gunn, young newcomer Kevin Bishop (who currently performs on ABC's 'Super Fun Night') plays Jim Hawkins, and Tim Curry gets to chew the scenery as Long John Silver.
Believe it or not 'The Great Muppet Caper' is the only one of the Muppet movies to be directed by Jim Henson. A lot of his humor and sense of fun can be seen in 'Caper', and he even has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo in the film. While the storyline of 'Caper' isn't the best, the real appeal of the movie is in its musical numbers, a few of which are quite catchy. The movie opens with a fun number called 'Hey a Movie!', and even has a song that was Oscar-nominated in 'The First Time It Happens'. But for my money, the best song and the best on-screen number in 'Caper' is 'Couldn't We Ride', which takes the Muppet-on-a-bicycle idea first viewed in The Muppet Movie and expands on it. This time around, it begins with Kermit and Miss Piggy riding bikes, and finishes nearly the whole gang on them. It's a delightful (not to mention technically impressive for the day) sequence that reminds one that Henson was as much about heart as he was humor when it came to his vision of the Muppets (the song, for the record, was written by Joe Raposo, who wrote so many of the great songs for 'Sesame Street', including 'It's Not Easy Bein' Green').
While 'Caper' has great music, but a rather standard story, 'Muppet Treasure Island' has the same problem in reverse – it has a good story (how could it not, based on the classic novel?), but it really doesn't have any memorable tunes. The most fun musical sequence is 'Cabin Fever' (one of the few instances where all the characters can go a bit off-script and be enjoyably manic), but it's not much of a song – it's just a nice visual change from the rest of the film. Another problem is that until the final half hour of the movie (which runs about 99 minutes), neither Kermit nor Miss Piggy have a whole lot to do – in fact, Miss Piggy doesn't even show up in the movie until an hour has ticked by. So while 'Treasure Island' accomplishes what it sets out to be – another fun re-telling of a classic novel – it doesn't present the opportunity for many of our favorite Muppets to shine.
Athough both 'Caper' and 'Treasure Island' are slightly disappointing sequels to the films that came before them, in the Muppet pantheon of movies, the two hold up quite well. They're not as good as the best Muppet films, but not as bad as some of the others (let's face it, a Muppet movie would have to be pretty bad to match the awful Muppets in Space). This release also means that all the theatrical Muppet movies are now available on the Blu-ray format, although since all the other ones are individual releases, it might have been nice to see Disney give each of these titles a separate special edition (with a little more attention to transfer and extras – as you'll discover reading my review of each below), instead of rushing out a combo disc to the market to capitalize on the next big-screen adventure (coming in early 2014). p>
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Muppet double feature arrives on Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, with the Blu-ray housed on the inside left, and two DVDs (each containing one of the two movies) stacked on top of each other on the inside right. Both disc hubs can accommodate two discs, so if owners would like to switch their Blu-ray to the more-traditional right side, the left side will also hold the two DVDs. There are two inserts inside – one containing a Disney Movie Rewards code, and the other being an advertisement for the Disney Movie Club. An embossed slipcover with artwork matching that of the slick slides overtop the keepcase.
Both the Blu-ray and both DVDs are front-loaded with skippable trailers for The Jungle Book, 'Muppets Most Wanted', and Mary Poppins. After the trailers, the Blu-ray gives you a menu to select which of the two films you'd like to watch, which takes you to the main menu of each movie. The menu for 'The Great Muppet Caper' shows Gonzo, Kermit, and Fozzie developing photographs in a dark room; while the menu for 'Muppet Treasure Island' features a montage of clips from the movie. Both menus have selections running along the bottom of the screen.
Disney touts the fact that both films have been 'restored and remastered' for this new Blu-ray edition, but that doesn't mean that both movies don't arrive with their share of issues worth noting.
The good news is that Disney seems to have laid off of excessive DNR use on 'The Great Muppet Caper'. The bad news is that the result is a transfer that is excessively grainy and often quite noisy. Some shots look better than others, but most have a rather soft look to them. There's also quite a bit of 'shimmering' and stabilization issues that may have to do with the original film source than the transfer. These, of course, are most noticeable during the credits, but it can also be seen occasionally during other points in the film. If there's good news here, it's that the movie retains both its rich color pallet as well as its film-like look, but the bad news is that the film never really offers the kind of detail and 'pop' of a great Blu-ray transfer. Yes, the movie looks better than its DVD counterpart on this release, but it's not a huge difference.
Heavy grain is less of an issue on 'Muppet Treasure Island', but although the movie looks much sharper and detailed than 'Caper', it also has a softer/less colorful appearance. Much of the muted look has to do with the way the movie is shot – with a lot of orange and yellow tint – but black levels aren't very strong here, overall details are only about average, and once again there's not a huge jump in quality between the DVD version of the movie and what it looks like on Blu-ray.
Both films come with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks that vary a bit with each other, but are overall just pretty average in nature.
Naturally, 'The Great Muppet Caper' (being the older film) benefits the least from the new lossless audio, as – while there is occasional activity in the rear speakers – the movie keeps most of its sound up front and center. There's very little going on in terms of directionality, and – in fact – it's very likely you won't even notice the rears during much of the movie. As you might have guessed, 'Muppet Treasure Island' makes better use of the lossless track, although it's still far from an immersive experience. However, the 5.1 track is far more noticeable here, particularly during the musical numbers and some of the more action-oriented sequences.
In addition to the 5.1 lossless tracks on both movies, 'Caper' also includes Dolby 2.0 tracks in French, Spanish, and German. While 'Treasure Island's French track is also 2.0, the Spanish and German tracks for that movie are 5.1 Dolby. Both films offer subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and German.
While both movies have tons of charm, they're also both 'lesser' sequels to the films that came before them. Also, the fact that Disney has provided rather average looking and sounding transfers of both movies with little in the terms of bonus materials has to be factored in. The result is something that only Muppet 'completests' are going to want to invest in, as if you already own these films on DVD, I'm not sure the upgrade is worth it. Rent this one first, before making your buying decision.