Friday, May 11, 2012

The Muppets – The Wocka Wocka Value Pack Blu-ray Review

One of the year’s best-loved family comedies and among the best reviewed films of 2011, Disney’s The Muppets, starring Jason Segel, Academy Award-nominee Amy Adams, and favorite celebrity couple Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy is now available on Blu-ray! On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world’s biggest Muppet fan, his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze Muppet Studios and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets’ former stomping grounds. To stage a telethon and raise the $10 million needed to save the studio, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

It’s time to play the music…It’s time to light the lights…It’s time to meet the muppets…

After twelve long years without a theatrical Muppet movie, many fans were excited but anxious when it was announced that a new movie was coming from the screenwriting duo of actor Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller and it would be directed by “Flight of the Conchords” creator James Bobin. Despite Segal’s love for puppets (displayed inForgetting Sarah Marshall), it was a little worrying that the usual Jim Henson collaborators like Frank Oz were not going to be a part of the production. I include myself among those that were worried since I knew that if this movie didn’t do well that it might well be the swan song of the franchise theatrically. I’m happy to report that The Muppetsnot only defied the long odds against it, but it’s actually one of the best movies in the series!

The Muppets isn’t a remake or a quick cash grab designed to exploit the love and nostalgia that many people (including myself) have for the characters. Instead, it uses that love and nostalgia to remind fans why they fell in love with the show in the first place and to pack an emotional punch much like Toy Story 3 did. And just like Toy Story 3, the movie doesn’t shy away from the passage of time, which only makes The Muppets more poignant when the film acknowledges their current commercial popularity and their outdated optimism that seems out of place in this harder and more cynical time. That self-awareness means that the movie isn’t afraid to tackle both of those concepts head on which raises the movie to another level and sets it apart from the earlier movies that were mainly concerned with just entertaining people. The Muppets are still happy to offer fun and entertainment, but the movie also offers some pointed observations about the franchise that Jim Henson built and about society in general.

The movie opens with a look at two brothers growing up in a idealized small town called fittingly enough, Smalltown. The older brother Gary (Jason Segal) is a normal human but his brother Walter is inexplicably a muppet. As they grow older, Walter wants to be more and more like his brother Gary, but because he is a muppet, he doesn’t share the same growth spurt or change in any way. That fact brings the normally cheerful Walter down until he happens to see an episode of “The Muppet Show” on TV which changes his life. Both Gary and Walter enjoy watching the show and as the years pass and the Muppets are seen to be less and less cool by other kids, Walter is made fun of for his love of them. Despite that, his love for the felt little Muppets continues unabated while Gary’s interests eventually drift another direction when he gets a lovely girlfriend named Mary (Amy Adams).

Ten years pass and the ever patient Mary is starting to feel anxious about Gary never proposing to her to take their relationship to the next level because he doesn’t want to leave Walter alone. Even when Gary plans a trip to take Mary to Los Angeles to celebrate their tenth anniversary, he invites Walter to join them so he can see the Muppet Studios during their trip. While Mary understands why Gary worries about his brother, she also feels that she’s waited long enough for Gary to fully commit to her. Once the trio reach Los Angeles, they immediately go to see the fabled Muppet Studios only to discover that’s it’s completely run down.

Undeterred, Walter still wants to take the pitiful tour (run by the funny Alan Arkin) and he later sneaks into Kermit the Frog’s old office to check it out. While there, he hears people coming and hides only to hear the curmudgeonly Muppets Waldorf and Statler selling the Muppet theater to Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an oil baron, and his henchmen Bobo the Bear and Uncle Deadly. Richman is buying the theater due to the oil that has been discovered underneath the theater, but Waldorf explains that there is a loophole to the contract which would allow the Muppets to repurchase the theater if they could raise $10 million dollars.

Walter seeks out Kermit to warn him of Richman’s plans and discovers that the Muppets are no longer talking to each other. Kermit misses his old friends but has just let time go by without doing anything about it. Now with the realization that the theater is in trouble, Kermit springs into action and decides that they only way to raise the money is to gather the old gang back together and put on a show. They find Fozzie Bear doing a Muppet impersonation show called the Moopets in Reno, Nevada and Gonzo is now a plumbing magnate (quite the leap up from his modest plumbing business from the first movie), and Miss Piggy is working in Paris as Vogues’ plus sized fashion editor. The intervening years since they were last together have been hard on most of the Muppets and some like Animal have tried to make changes. The wild and erratic drummer has been trying to calm himself through anger management along with his sponsor Jack Black who has told him to never drum again.

From that point on, the Muppets have to convince a television network to let them air their fundraising special as well as repair the theater and rehearse their show. With the network executive breathing down his neck to find a celebrity host that’s still relevant and Richman and his henchmen doing all they can to sabotage the show, and the Moopets trying to steal the Muppet trademark and their names, Kermit and friends have their hands full. Gary and Walter have their own share of trouble as Gary forgot about his anniversary with Mary who went back home to Smalltown and Walter is realizing more and more than he is more of a muppet than a man. Both of them will have to decide which future they want to pursue which could mean in opposite directions from each other.

The Muppets have returned better than ever and this film is full of fun songs, clever banter, and enough touching scenes that were done so well that the movie has garnered some much deserved critical praise. While I would have preferred the movie to be more muppet-centric like the previous outings, the human cast does a well enough job but I would have been happier with just the old muppet crew and some celebrity cameos. Speaking of the traditional famous cameos, this movie follows the usual practice with a bunch of good people included and a lot that didn’t make it into the final cut of the movie. The Muppets haven’t changed but the world has and it’s nice to see them return to remind us of happier days that weren’t as edgy or dark as recent times. Their “lets put on a show” attitude is infectious and you will be tapping your feet right along with them. One of the best things about the movie is its handling of the franchise’s history as it treats it with the respect and love it deserves. This script isn’t overly reverential about their past, but at the same time, it acknowledges it and pays it respect by cleverly tying it into the movie through lines and songs. If you don’t feel something when all of them join together to sing the The Muppet Movie’s “Rainbow Connection”, then you need a heart transplant.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

As usual, Disney has pulled out all of the stops for this movie’s presentation and this 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is no exception. This transfer is so full of sharp detail that you can see the felt textures of the Muppets and every outfit worn by the humans. Colors are bountiful and vibrant which is really saying something when you consider the wide variety of colors throughout the movie with every Muppet a different hue. Watching this movie is like witnessing a color explosion and it’s just amazing. Flesh tones are natural and consistent and black levels are as dark as they should be. There’s no flaws to speak of and fans of the movie will be very happy to see this movie look even better on Blu-ray than it did in the theaters.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

Disney’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix is just as stellar as it’s picture quality! This is an all channel hands on deck kind of mix, one that brings the movie to life with an active and wonderful track. Dialogue is crystal clear as is the orchestral score and and Oscar winning songs from Bret McKenzie. The LFE channel packs a wallop and the rear speakers provide non-stop activity and dead on accurate directional effects that swirl around the viewer. The cross channel mayhem sounds fantastic and it makes you feel as if you were there. This is an amazing mix that showcases the Muppets in all of their sonic glory.

Extras (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This Wocka Wocka edition has a lot of good special features and some new extras like the free digital download of the soundtrack and a new innovative pause feature that I hope becomes standard for other releases.  The intermission that occurs when you hit pause is a lot of fun and was completely unexpected.   Watching the characters do comedic bits in this mini extra was really cool.  There seems to be five different bits that’s played and I really liked this imaginative extra.  The rest of the extras are also cool and in high definition.
  • Filmmakers Audio Commentary – A commentary with executive producer/co-writer/actor Jason Segel, executive producer/co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin.  This is an entertaining and laid back commentary that isn’t as focuses as some might have liked as the trio talk about other movies, their influences, their past work, and of course the Muppets too.  It’s obvious that they are huge fans of the Muppets and if you listen long enough, you will hear some interesting information about Muppet history and the techniques used to make the movie among the many other anecdotes.
  • Scratching the Surface – Despite being over sixteen minutes long, this isn’t really a behind the scenes look at the making of the movie but rather a look at the Muppets and their trademarked humor instead.  We get some narration and cameo interviews and it’s a lot of fun and a nice break from the usual EPK stuff.
  • Deleted Scenes – We get eight deleted scenes including: “Walter’s Nightmare,” “Life’s A Happy Song Missing Verse,” “A Hero in Hollywood,” “Credit Card Club,” “Muppets in Jail,” “Bowling for Beaker,” “The Strip Mall Awards” and “The Complete Muppet Telethon Opening & More” which also means that Rob Corddry, Danny Trejo, Sarah Hyland, Wanda Sykes, Ricky Gervais, Billy Crystal, and more were relegated to the deleted bin with these cuts.
  • Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song – We get to see the full length rap song from Chris Cooper’s Tex Richman which explains why he hates the Muppets.
  • The Longest Blooper Reel Ever – At Least In Muppet History… We Think – Here’s nine minutes 0f fun as we see the usual bloopers and hijinks, but this time with the Muppets too.  What’s amazing is seeing the puppeteers not only stay in character during these mistakes but also their ability to adlib with the actors too.  This one is highly recommended.
  • A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read-Through – An extra that shows Jason Segel, Kermit, The Great Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and others as they get ready for the first day of production and a script reading.
  • Theatrical Spoof Trailers – Here’s all nine of the popular spoof trailers that show off the Muppet humor to good effect.  Included in this set is: “Rise of the Muppets,” “Never” “Green with Envy,” “The Fuzzy Pack,” “Being Green,” “The Piggy with the Froggy Tattoo” and “Green with Envy, the Spoof Spoof Trailer.”  The only spoof trailer that didn’t make it on the Blu-ray is the recent one that spoofed The Hunger Games.
  • Full-Length Original Soundtrack – We are given the download code for the film’s full soundtrack album which is really cool.  Now you can listen to the fun and Oscar winning soundtrack for free!
  • Disney Intermission – Pause the movie to see one of five clips of fun Muppety goodness!

Summary (5 out of 5 stars) 

This film marks the triumphant return of the Muppets and everything that they stand for!  The movie is full of humor, catchy songs, and some touching moments that will get to you.  Disney has put together a fantastic Blu-ray that has excellent picture and sound quality, some great extras including the free soundtrack, and I really can’t recommend this movie highly enough.  If you loved the Muppets before, then you will love this a lot.  If you never liked the Muppets, this movie might very well change that opinion.  With a sequel already in the works, the Muppets are back in a big way and I couldn't be happier to welcome them back with open arms!
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