Judge Bryan Pope dons his ruby red felt slippers and tries to dodge flying monkeys. Anyone up for a game of muppet skeet?
What happens in the Emerald City stays in the Emerald City.
Gonzo, pinched nipples and shrimp. Oh my.
Facts of the Case
Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and the rest of Jim Henson's Muppets take on L. Frank Baum's classic children's book The Wizard of Oz.
Kermit, my little amphibious buddy, where did things go so horribly wrong? I grew up with you. I listened to your records and watched your show. I was with you when you hit it big in Hollywood, thwarted jewel thieves, and bit a chunk out of the Big Apple. I stuck by you even when you took on Dickens. We've laughed together. Dreamed together. Drowned our sorrows over suds and a bowl of flies together.
But now it's come to this. I just finished your latest movie, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, and I find myself at a loss for words. I can't help but wonder what must have run through your little felt head when you read the script. I can understand how the concept might have looked appealing at first glance. Giving a beloved story a gentle tweaking with your innocent, sly sense of humor seems like a recipe for can't-miss family entertainment. And what could be more fun than reimagining the legendary screen goddess Miss Piggy as the Wicked Witch of the West? Why, letting Piggy play all four witches, of course!
You brought the story into the twenty-first century by making Dorothy Gale (R&B singer Ashanti) a hash-slinging, karaoke-singing waitress at a Kansas diner owned by her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier). Nice touch. Okay, so the Quentin Tarantino cameo was weird and the sudden appearance of Kelly Osborne was gratuitous, but I'm willing to overlook those sins since you nailed some of the book's small details, such as how the Wizard appears in various guises before the curtain is finally yanked aside, and the way visitors must don green-tinted glasses before entering the Emerald City. And I think Baum's Wicked Witch of the West possessed a magical glass eye like the one Piggy uses. Your writers clearly did their homework.
What I want to know, Kermit, is what happened to the magic? I still remember watching in wonder the first time you rode your Schwinn through town in The Muppet Movie. I scratched my head over that one for days wondering how you did that. Ever the trendsetter, you had everyone riding bicycles by the time you arrived in London. But there is no wonder to be found in your land of Oz. It's strangely flat, colorless and without imagination, three things any Oz movie should never be. The sets are of dime store quality (except for the Wizard's chamber, which looks kinda cool), and every other camera shot is a tight close-up with four or five Muppets competing against Ashanti for camera time. What happened to the wide-open spaces of your first movie, or the decadent production numbers of Great Muppet Caper and Muppets Take Manhattan? Even your later set-bound features had room to breathe. But Oz feels uncomfortably cramped, almost claustrophobic, particularly while Dorothy is in Munchkinland. And while we're talking about Munchkinland, what's with all the mushroom houses? I kept expecting Gargamel to spring out from behind a tree and hunt for Smurfs. Reimagining the winged monkeys as a biker gang was a step in the right direction, creatively speaking, but Sidney Lumet had already envisioned that more than a quarter of a century ago in The Wiz.
What's worse is how crass and mean the whole enterprise feels. Kermit—and I say this with love—you have betrayed your audience. Worse, you have betrayed yourself. I don't know, maybe it's that you no longer have Henson's gentle hand to guide you, so to speak. Maybe you were merely a pawn in all this; someone's, er, puppet. Whatever the case, I want to know why you thought you had to shoot for cheap laughs. You injected a couple of crackerjack quips that reminded me of how playfully subversive you could be (my favorite was the reference to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, while the joke about the conspicuously absent Muppet regular Frank Oz came a close second). But then you had that wisecrack about The Passion of the Christ, which was of questionable taste and a bad fit in the Muppet world. Casting Gonzo in the Tin Man role was inspired-name a Muppet who has more heart than Big G-but having Pepe the Prawn (inexplicably filling in as the faithful Toto when Rowlf the Dog is waiting in the wings) pinch his metal nipples was crude and inappropriate. Almost as bad was the remark uttered when Dorothy gets ready to bring it on with Piggy's wicked witch ("Get ready for a 'witch slap!"). I'm beginning to understand why so many of the original Muppeteers-so faithful during your previous outings-sat this one out. Believe me, their absences are sorely felt.
Kermit, I have all the faith in the world that you and your loveable gang will reclaim that certain something that captured our hearts and imagination so many years ago. Don't be discouraged by this travesty of Muppet entertainment. Just think of it as a little bump on the log as you hop along to better things.
The Muppets' Wizard of Oz is presented in its original full-screen format with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. The package includes a collection of forgettable outtakes and bloopers (the staged kind made famous and done better by Pixar), a quick behind-the-scenes featurette hosted by Pepe the Prawn, and an "extended interview" with Quentin Tarantino. For an extended interview, it's not very long. But at least Tarantino gets to share amusing posters from various film collaborations with the Muppets that never came to be ("Reservoir Frogs," "Kill Swill," you get the picture).
I love the Muppets too much to spend an hour and a half watching them be drained of their spirit. I do not recommend this disc.
While the evidence against The Muppets' Wizard of Oz is compelling, this court finds Mr. K. Frog guilty only by association. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Outtakes and bloopers
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