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‘Dad, what’s a Muppet?’
‘Well, it's not quite a mop and its not quite a puppet, but man… (loses train of thought while laughing). So, to answer your question I don't know.’

This single, off-handed joke from an episode of The Simpsons almost sums up the appeal of Jim Henson’s weird and wonderful Muppet phenomenon. It’s practically impossible to describe what it is that makes a Muppet a Muppet (it is a puppet, but it’s a special kind of puppet and clearly not every puppet qualifies as a Muppet) and it’s even harder to describe the tone of the shows and movies that they’ve populated. A great Muppet movie is a comedy that is definitively child-friendly, but, at best, doesn’t talk down to its audience. The characters, despite being felt-made, inhuman creatures live their lives on very human terms. More specifically, adult human terms. They bring the joys and terrors of the adult world – dating, employment, finances – to a younger audience without sanitizing the woes that are endured. Yet, a great Muppet movie is also absurd and, at its core, a parable about the importance of family and friendship. It makes the entire audience feel good, from the smallest child to the elderly men in the balcony that don’t want to admit how much they’re enjoying themselves. The only part of the Simpsons joke that doesn’t work is the implication that Lisa Simpson doesn’t know what a Muppet is, because everyone knows what a Muppet is. Especially a child of Lisa Simpson’s age in 1996 (when the episode aired). And that’s the real beauty of The Muppets – they’re an indescribably odd and singular sensation that has endured for generations.

 Muppet Movie, The
 Muppet Movie, The
The Muppets Take Manhattan might have been the most sophisticated film in the series and The Muppets was a brilliant reintroduction, but the best thing Muppet-related is and probably always will be The Muppet Movie (though I find it hard to consider any of their theatrical outings definitively ‘bad,’ except Muppet Treasure Island). Nothing since has quite managed to reproduce the unique elation of Henson and director James Frawley’s original mega-meta motion picture. Besides inducing the heartiest of belly laughs (not to mention groans), this oddly magical movie can prompt unsubstantiated tears of joy. I’m not sure I know anyone that doesn’t get a little choked-up every time they hear ‘Rainbow Connection,’ despite it being sung by a fabric frog playing a banjo. It should be so absurd that it’s hilarious, but instead it’s a deeply affecting moment. Frawley, who was otherwise mostly a television director, rarely gets any credit for his work on the film. The Muppet-related technical wizardry was probably Henson and Frank Oz’ doing (I think most of us assume they were the directors), but Frawley brings theatricality to the production that differentiates it from the original television series (which was still running at the time). It’s also interesting how much weight the celebrity cameos still carry, despite most of them either dead or culturally irrelevant.

 Muppet Movie, The
 Muppet Movie, The

Video


The Muppets Take Manhattan, A Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppets From Space, and The Muppets have all been available on Blu-ray, but the original classic was suspiciously absent from every self-respecting collector’s shelf – until now. There was an assumption that an HD release would coincide with The Muppets, but it seems that Disney was waiting for its ‘Nearly 35th Anniversary.’ Whatever the delay, it appears it was worth the wait. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer follows the lead set by most of the studio’s other non-animated catalogue releases – it looks authentically old and film-based. The grain will definitely be a problem for some viewers, but it looks natural to me, aside from a few instances of cross-colouration and some greenish noise during the wide angle, daylight shots. The image has been cleared of major print artefacts, just not the stuff that makes film look like, well, film. The detail increase is impressive, though mostly in close-up texture, rather than the wider backdrops, which are still sharper than their SD counterparts (the county fair establishing shots, for example, are much better than the DVD). The fuzzy Muppet felt looks soft enough to touch and you can actually see the dirt that has collected on the puppets while they were exposed to the elements. Colour quality is noticeably more vibrant than the DVD version, as well, without major blooming effects or low-level noise issues. The differentiation between the mundane human world and the acrylic world the Muppets inhabit are vivid in 1080p. Sometimes, the images lean a bit darker than the DVD, but the only thing I’d mark as a problem would be that some of the black levels are a bit brown or grey.

 Muppet Movie, The
 Muppet Movie, The

Audio


The new Blu-ray features only one choice for audio: a 5.1 remix, presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. It will be disappointing to purists that the original stereo surround track was not included, but the basic sound of the remix remains mostly true to the capabilities of a 2.0 track. A lot of the sound comes from the direct center of the channel – including dialogue, incidental effects, and non-singing musical cues. I have to admit that the whole thing is a little muddy. The dialogue tracks feature some really inconsistent volume levels and lumpy moments when several characters are speaking at once. But the lossless qualities of the track set it apart from its DVD equivalents in overall volume and a lack of high noise level distortion. The sound designers resist the urge to spread too many original effects over the channels. There are some awkward embellishments, especially the explosions Crazy Harry sets off in the movie theater at the beginning of the film. Occasionally, the directional enhancements don’t even come from the correct speaker, but the overall effect is still mostly authentic. Because the mix isn’t particularly complex, this DTS-HD track is most valuable for the punchy, dynamic range, and overall clarity it gives the film’s musical moments. Paul Williams’ and Kenny Ascher’s songs have never sounded better. It is here that the extra channels actually come in handy and the sound is naturally divided. The LFE pop is another nice addition, though there are unnecessary echo effects added to some of the drum tracks.

 Muppet Movie, The
 Muppet Movie, The

Extras


The special features are, sadly, minimal, including three Frog-e-oke Sing-Along entries (‘Rainbow Connection,’ ‘Movin’ Right Along,’ and ‘Can You Picture That’), the director’s original extended camera tests (17:50, HD), Doc Hopper’s commercial (1:00, HD), a trailer (HD), a teaser (HD), and Pepe Profiles Presents: Kermit – A Frog’s Life from the old DVD (6:30, SD).

Overall


It’s really difficult to describe the wonderful world of the Muppets. It has eluded me over the process of writing this review. Those that still don’t understand the phenomenon really just need to take my word for it. Those that already know the joy of The Muppet Movie can rest assured that this belated Blu-ray release looks great. Some people might think it’s too grainy, but this is what modestly-priced movies from the late ‘70s are supposed to look like. There’s also no mistaking the upgrade over the older DVD release, based on the screencaps on this page. The DTS-HD MA sound is a little more problematic (just a little), though, based on Disney’s good track record, I’m not sure there’s much that could be done with the original tracks. The lack of extra material is disappointing, but not a deal-breaker.

 Muppet Movie, The
 Muppet Movie, The

 Muppet Movie, The
 Muppet Movie, The

* Note: The images on this page were taken from the Blu-ray and Disney's original DVD release. The full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of each transfer.


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