The Muppets are back in a big budget musical crime comedy! Wokka wokka wokka!!
Already a welcome fixture in primetime with TV's The Muppet Show, Jim Henson brought his beloved creations to the big screen with 1978's The Muppet Movie. The first Muppet film, which outlined the genesis of the group under fearless leader Kermit the Frog, was a huge success, paving the way for a string of sequels, some successful, others not so much. The Great Muppet Caper is the former thanks to some robust humor and great musical sequences. Now Columbia TriStar brings the second Muppet film to DVD with mixed results.
Facts of the Case
While The Muppet Movie showed us the story of how the Muppets got into showbiz and started making movies, The Great Muppet Caper is actually one of those movies. In this film, Kermit and Fozzie the Bear are "twin" brothers and roving newspaper reporters, on the verge of getting fired until they promise their editor (Jack Warden) they'll soon have a scoop. Along with photographer Gonzo, Kermit and Fozzie head for London to report on the recent theft of jewels from the rich fashion designer Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg). While in London, Kermit and company stay at the Happiness Hotel, a run-down inn that houses all sorts of Muppet characters, including Rizzo the Rat as a bellhop, the Electric Mayhem and Scooter. Lady Holiday's secretary, Miss Piggy, convinces Kermit that she is actually Lady Holiday, and he asks her out on a date. While dining at a lovely restaurant, Kermit learns that Piggy is lying about her identity. At the same time, the jewel thieves strike again, stealing a beautiful necklace from Lady Holiday. But Gonzo catches the crime on film and reveals the identity of the thief—Lady Holiday's brother Nicky (Charles Grodin). Unfortunately, a band of Muppets who insist on using the bathroom while Gonzo is trying to develop his pictures destroys the evidence. Despite Nicky's affection for Miss Piggy, he plants the necklace on her to divert suspicion and she is arrested for the crime. The Muppets must band together to catch Nicky and clear Miss Piggy's good name!
There is nothing quite like a Muppet movie. They contain a unique blend of humor, music, satire and inter-species lovin' unlike any other film series. What other movie (John Waters notwithstanding) will there ever be in which Charles Grodin reveals his passion for a pig? The Great Muppet Caper is a worthy entry in the canon of Muppet films. In many ways, The Great Muppet Caper is an homage to both the screwball comedies of the thirties and forties, and to big production number classics like the Busby Berkeley musicals. In particular, the sequence in which Miss Piggy swims in sync with several other ladies while a hilariously dubbed Charles Grodin croons is a direct parody of Berkeley's films. Like all of the Muppet films, The Great Muppet Caper relies heavily on puns, sight gags, and slapstick for its humor. If this is your idea of a good time, you'll love The Great Muppet Caper.
The Muppets are constantly aware that they are in the midst of a movie, and some of the funniest laughs come from their asides to the audience. At one point, Miss Piggy asks Lady Holiday why she is giving her so much detailed information. Holiday's reply: "Plot exposition…it has to be put in somewhere." Another enjoyable aside comes when Kermit criticizes Piggy's over-the-top performance. She agrees to tone it down. Director Jim Henson seems to have a lot of fun testing the limits of puppeteering. In The Great Muppet Caper, the Muppets climb walls, parachute from planes, ride bicycles and even motorcycles. In one of the more memorable sequences, Miss Piggy swims underwater. These tricks help to keep the movie from seeming static, even if the methods are a little obvious. Charles Grodin should get a special mention for being one of the few actors who can actually play opposite a puppet and seem totally believable. His smarmy, nature-be-damned Nick Holiday is one of the highlights of the film.
At some points, The Great Muppet Caper loses momentum. It's a not a very well paced film. In fact, Charles Grodin's villain (aside from an early cameo) doesn't debut until forty minutes into the picture. The musical numbers serve to break up the monotony, but it could have been edited for pace as well. A Muppet movie doesn't need to be 98 minutes. Also missing from The Great Muppet Caper are the dozens of celebrity cameos we expect from a Muppet film. Here we only get Peter Falk, John Cleese, Peter Ustinov, and Jack Warden (and look for an appearance by Oscar the Grouch too!).
The Great Muppet Caper is presented in its original aspect ratio, an anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1. On the other side of the disc is a full-frame transfer, which may appeal to younger children who cannot understand the black bars (but please start training them early, folks!). The widescreen version of the film left a lot to be desired. The Great Muppet Caper looks its age, almost twenty years old. There were significant occurrences of grain and blemish, especially in the opening and closing parachuting scenes. Colors seemed a bit off too, reds in particular seemed too strong. Not a great transfer overall.
In the audio department, I was also unimpressed. This disc contains a 5.1 Dolby digital mix, which I found to be uneven. Dialogue sounded quite muffled and the musical numbers were often distorted. Even more annoying, I had to adjust the volume between the two types of scenes. Also included are French and Spanish audio tracks, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles (not during songs!). Columbia usually produces exceptional discs in terms of audio and video quality, but they really missed the boat here.
Included on the disc are "Muppetisms" short segments (30 to 60 seconds) that appear to be commercials or public service announcements. The three on this disc star Animal, Statler and Waldorf, and Kermit and Floyd. They are cute, but not that impressive. There are also four trailers on the disc. Muppet From Space and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland are full-frame and appear to be theatrical trailers. The Muppets Take Manhattan seems to be a full-frame video promotion trailer. The theatrical trailer for Buddy is widescreen. Not much to brag about feature-wise on this disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Great Muppet Caper has big shoes to fill. The Muppet Movie is a superior film, with more laughs, better songs, and bigger heart. In the first film, Kermit must overcome his self-doubt, become a leader, and follow his dream. He learns that friendship is important. These messages are missing from The Great Muppet Caper. It concentrates on technique and humor instead of story and theme. The Great Muppet Caper is a good film, but fails to attain the greatness of its predecessor.
Columbia TriStar dropped the ball with this release. If the audio and video elements were up to par then the lack of supplemental features would be forgivable. Vote with your dollar and force Columbia to revisit The Great Muppet Caper again soon!
Miss Piggy is acquitted of jewel thievery, but this DVD presentation is guilty, guilty, guilty…
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