Judge Clark Douglas has spent entirely too many nights at the Happiness Hotel.
Our review of The Great Muppet Caper, published July 9th, 2001, is also available.
Set sail for Muppet mayhem!
With the release of this two-films-on-one-disc collection, all of the theatrically released Muppet movies are now available in hi-def. That certainly makes me happy, though they couldn't have picked two more wildly different Muppet movies to include on a single disc. They both have their pleasures, but these are two movies from very different eras in Muppet history that set out to do very different things.
The Great Muppet Caper was Jim Henson's follow-up to The Muppet Movie, an enchanting feature jam-packed with laughs, memorable musical numbers, emotional moments and delightful star cameos. Rather than attempting to top that effort or needlessly continue that film's story, The Great Muppet Caper wanders off in its own direction and casts the assorted characters in new roles. This time around, Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo are investigative journalists who have just been fired. In a desperate attempt to win their jobs back, the trio travels to London in the hopes of solving a high-profile mystery. If they can determine the identity of a notorious jewel thief and help bring him to justice, surely they'll be back in the good graces of their former employer.
In some ways, The Great Mupper Caper is a bigger, grander film than its predecessor—it's the closest Henson ever came to making a James Bond movie, albeit one that also makes time for a Busby Berkeley homage and lots of slapstick comedy. Even so, it feels like something is missing this time around. The characters are still beautifully-captured, of course, and there are plenty of fun gags littered throughout, but this one lacks the soulfulness of the best Muppet films. This feeling extends to the musical numbers, which are fun (especially the bouncy "Happiness Hotel") but never come close to the highs of "Rainbow Connection" or "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday."
So yes, the film is certainly more hit-and-miss than the first, but when it hits, it really hits. There are some spectacular setpieces littered throughout the film, my favorite of which features an extended cameo from John Cleese as an entertainingly dull British millionaire. Cleese was a splendid host when he appeared on The Muppet Show years earlier, and he demonstrates once again that he's as good as anyone when it comes to acting with felt co-stars. Fozzie's inspirational speech is also terrific, as are the many moments in which the film indulges in a bit of metatextual comedy. Henson is clearly having a good time satirizing a host of cinematic conventions, and those joyous gags are often the moments with The Great Mupper Caper really springs to life.
Muppet Treasure Island is a much different beast. It arrived hot on the heels of the wonderful The Muppet Christmas Carol, which had cast Michael Caine in the central role of Scrooge and gave our beloved Muppets most of the supporting parts (Kermit was Bob Cratchit, Fozzie was "Fozziewig" and Gonzo was Charles Dickens himself). Muppet Treasure Island takes the same approach, giving Tim Curry the role of Long John Silver and surrounding him with Muppets. Brian Henson's two Muppet features certainly aren't as beloved as his father's, but they're charming, well-crafted films in their own right that have actually held up quite well over the years (they're certainly much better than Tim Hill's unfortunate Muppets From Space).
One of the most entertaining things about Muppet Treasure Island is the manner in which it frequently contrasts the relative intensity of its plot and setting with the giddy silliness of its cast. Tim Curry is surely the world's campiest Long John Silver, but he's perfect for this take on the tale and manages to deliver a level of energy that easily matches that of Miss Piggy (no small feat). Not all of the songs are winners, but the good ones are superb (especially the opening "Shiver My Timbers" and the hilarious, intentionally wretched Kermit/Piggy duet "Love Led Us Here"). The Hans Zimmer score adds quite a bit of fun to the mix, too, a boisterous effort that is arguably a good deal more swashbuckling than his assorted Pirates of the Caribbean scores.
The Great Muppet Caper/Muppet Treasure Island (Blu-ray) grants both of its features fine 1080p/1.85:1 transfers. The latter looks a bit sharper than the former (likely due to the fact that it's a newer movie), but both offer strong detail and depth. Colors are vibrant and compression doesn't seem to be much of an issue despite the fact that both films have been stuffed on a single Blu-ray disc. Both films have also received satisfactory DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks that get the job done quite nicely. The songs sound crisp and vibrant in both cases, though Muppet Treasure Island has a bit more punch (probably due to the fact that it's a much more recent flick). Most of the supplements are focused on Muppet Treasure Island: a tongue-in-cheek audio commentary with Brian Henson, Rizzo and Gonzo, a making-of featurette and a music video. However, both films also come with a couple of karaoke sing-a-longs, and you get DVD copies of both films (though these are uncomfortably stacked on top of each other in a case that was clearly only meant for two discs—you may want to put one in a separate slipcover or case to prevent scratches).
While neither of these two flicks represent the very best this franchise has to offer, they're both fun flicks that deliver the sort of energetic mayhem and warmth only the Muppets can provide. Recommended.
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