The Muppets Great Outdoor Adventure
Jim Henson was a creative visionary to his very core. Never comfortable with formulaic success, with each opportunity he took his craft to a new level. What began with a no-name sock puppet doing local Washington D.C. television shows and commercials ultimately became a multi-million dollar franchise that would educate America's youth and entertain generations of adults.
Facts of the Case
Journey back with us to the early 1980s, the heyday of the Muppets. This hour-long ABC prime-time special finds Kermit and the gang meeting up with old friend John Denver for a camping trip in the scenic wilds of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. It's music and mayhem as only the Muppets can provide.
At the height of Muppet popularity, Jim Henson and his merry band of Muppeteers were able to transcend the confines of their London television soundstage into the uncharted expanse of the real world. With this new canvas, Jim turned his Muppets into full-fledged living creatures. Fusing puppet mastery with new technology and stage magic, these now familiar characters could ride horses and bicycles, row boats, go swimming, and so much more.
Building off their feature film successes—The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Great Muppet Caper (1981)—and the popularity of their first televised Christmas special—John Denver and the Muppets: Christmas Together (1979)—Jim and company reunited with John Denver for a musical trip through Rocky Mountain National Park. To be honest, for as much of a Muppet aficionado as I am, I cannot recall ever seeing this 1982 made-for-TV special. After watching it, I can now see why. Aside from the sheer wonder and amazement of seeing these characters live in an outdoor setting, it wasn't very memorable. Think Andrew Lloyd Webber goes camping with classic Muppet humor used to buffer the musical numbers.
Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, Rizzo, Scooter, Janice, Floyd, and Kermit's nephew Robin are all along for the ride. Piggy shows up in two musical flashback sequences, establishing a secret tryst between herself and John, which unveils Kermit's jealous side and once again hints at his true feelings for the portly starlet. This is the only evidence of a plot and it doesn't stick around for long. The remaining bits deal with Fozzie continually injuring himself, Robin feeling unwanted, Gonzo lusting after a giant man-eating chicken, and everyone's favorite curmudgeons, Statler and Waldorf, providing sarcastic commentary on these antics from a distance. The music isn't bad—16 numbers in all, featuring the old Bing Crosby/Louis Armstrong tune Gone Fishin, standards like She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain, Home on the Range, and Happy Trails, as well as Denver's own tunes Catch Another Butterfly, Poems Prayers and Promises, and Grandma's Feather Bed—but again there is nothing that will haunt your memory once the show is over.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame format, the picture is vintage '80s television, cleaned up and re-energized for this release. The colors are warm and inviting, capturing only a hint of Colorado's rich, natural beauty. Cheesy special effects rear their ugly head on two occasions—an agitated hornet's nest and the full moon shining over the campground—both of which suffer from hemorrhaging pixelation. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is adequate enough to showcase a nice stereo blend that can be further enhanced by filtering it through your receiver's 5 Channel option. The dialogue is strong and the music not overpowering. If you were expecting bonus features, you'll be sorely disappointed, as there is nothing here but a handful of studio trailers. Columbia blows yet another opportunity to tap into the rich history of the Muppets, consistent with other recent Muppet DVD releases. Granted, the Muppet ownership rights have traded hands more often than shares of Enron, but someone should have the business savvy to pull together a special collection honoring more than 35 years of these international icons.
John Denver & The Muppets—Rocky Mountain Holiday is like comfort food for children of the '70s and '80s. The familiarity and warmth of the Muppets combined with the soothing heartfelt music of the late John Denver will make any Gen-Xer feel like a kid again. What's more, whole new generations of children can now be introduced to the magic of the Muppets and the late Jim Henson—a man whose legacy will be felt a thousand lifetimes.
John Denver and the Muppets are free to go forth and entertain, while Columbia executives are held in contempt for not giving this franchise the five star treatment it so richly deserves.
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