Muppets Most Wanted (US - BD)
Gabe takes a trip on the rails with everyone's favourite talking felt people...
Following their big comeback, the Muppets gang sets out on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe's most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. But mayhem follows them overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine – the World's Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit the Frog – and his dastardly sidekick Dominic, aka Number Two (Ricky Gervais). (From Disney’s official synopsis)
At this point, the Muppet movies can be broken down into three categories. The first three films, The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), all of which included input from original co-creator Jim Henson, are conceptually similar and place the felt puppets in a human world (unlike their TV show, which introduced humans into their world). Their comedic qualities were consistent and they successfully improved in terms of mature and focused storytelling. Nearly a decade later, Disney Studios gained ownership of the franchise and started a new series of films that placed the Muppets in a series of literary classics, including The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005, made for television). Between these nominally popular, but creatively regressive films, Disney attempted to recast the Muppets for cynical, late-‘90s audiences with Muppets from Space (1999). Muppets from Space was not popular and considered by some fans to be the nail in the series’ coffin (I actually like it more than the previous two, but that’s neither here nor there). The first film in Disney’s second (or third?) soft reboot series, titled, simply, The Muppets, was brimming with meta-commentary about the relevance of the characters in the post-millennial world. The script made references to the original TV series and movies while commenting on their lost place in modern pop culture. Though the Muppets never fully disappeared from the cultural landscape, they were due for a re-introduction, specifically to adult audiences drunk on nostalgia.
Following The Muppets, Flight of the Concords alumni James Bobin and Bret McKenzie returned for the sequel, titled Muppets Most Wanted (originally titled Muppets…Again!) as director and songwriter, respectively. Bobin, who remains a perfectly adequate visual fit for the series, also took over co-writer duties from the previous film’s star, Jason Segel. He and returning screenwriter Nicholas Stoller appear to have mistakenly (I assume) used the third film in Jim Varney’s bygone Ernest series, Ernest Goes to Jail, as the story beneath their puppet-based silliness. I believe they were trying to pay homage to The Great Muppet Caper, but the Ernest factor is to funny too overlook. Beyond the familiarity is the fact that the narrative thrust isn’t particularly amusing. Fortunately, the writers also follow the lead set by the original Muppet Movie and are not married to plot as much as episodic, sketch-based comedy bits. The meta-text is laid on even thicker than it was last time, beginning with the indication that the previous film was, just that, a ‘film’ – not an actual Muppet adventure – followed by an opening number about the superfluous nature of movie sequels. This is a joke that fits the franchise’s love of breaking the fourth wall, but represents an amplified referential streak that grows stagnant and robs the film of poignancy and sweetness. Perhaps the easy-going, nostalgia-plucking charms of The Muppets can’t be reproduced without the anticipation of nearly three decades of subpar productions.
Still, some improvements have been made. The Muppets spent too much time with on its human and newly-created Muppet characters. Fans hoped that, with the property firmly re-established, a sequel could focus on the original cast, instead. Muppets Most Wanted corrects the issue by definitively appointing Kermit and Constantine as the film’s leads. Kermit’s character arc is predictable, but the focus the filmmakers have placed on his growth is significant. Only Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey are given significant speaking parts – all of which are definitively supportive in nature – while the other human appearances only count as cameos. Most of the cameos are pretty funny, too. McKenzie’s songs are on par with those he wrote for The Muppets. None are as ear-worm-worthy or as mystifyingly moving as ‘Man or Muppet’ or ‘Me Party,’ but, on a spoofy, pure comedy level, his work hasn’t been this strong since the Flight of the Concords. The songs also feature quite a bit of exposition and help propel the story forward, rather than stopping it for more comedic asides. Outside of running gags about the Muppets not having a place in a ‘hard cynical age,’ McKenzie’s songs are the defining element of this soft reboot. Muppets Most Wanted’s success in parts and relative failure as a whole might be evidence that the franchise belongs back on weekly television, instead of on the big screen.
Note that, for this review, I watched the new ‘Unnecessarily Extended Edition,’ which runs 124 minutes, instead of the theatrical cut, which was 113 minutes. It was, most certainly, unnecessarily extended.
Bobin and returning cinematographer Don Burgess got great results on The Muppets using Red Epic digital HD cameras and have returned to the format for their sequel. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is another fine example of what the format can do for the hyper-colourful, soft, and fuzzy world of The Muppets. And the look of Muppets Most Wanted is certainly a continuation of the image quality set by the previous film. This includes even focus that splits most scenes into sharp foregrounds, soft middle-grounds, and blurry backgrounds. Occasionally, the film breaks out of its preferred style for the sake of contrast and a good joke. For example, the Gulag set is desaturated, gritty, and dark. The crisper textures and harder edges feature no notable edge enhancement, though the most vivid colours (especially pinks and oranges) exhibit some overload artefacts. The general warmth makes the flesh tones appear a bit honeyed, the highlights a bit yellow, and browns a touch golden, but rarely risks the integrity of the more vital cool hues. Contrast levels are pretty light, but Bobin and Burgess’ affection for super deep blacks and surprisingly harsh shadows keep the dynamic ranges lively (Kermit’s green ‘flesh’ pops beautifully against the Gulag’s bleak grays). For the most part, the frame is clean – even the over-amped colours aren’t blocky or banded between smooth gradations – but there are some dark shots that exhibit a sheen of low-level digital noise.
This DTS-HD Master Audio HR 7.1 soundtrack also generally matches the one that accompanied the The Muppets Blu-ray. Dialogue is sharp, natural, and well-centered – greatly assisting the illusion of words physically coming out of the mouths of puppets. The stereo and surround channels are consistently aflutter with ambience and plenty of directional movement, usually in the name of a physical gag (Constantine’s ninja-like flipping about, for example). Other highlights include a number of bassy explosions, the chugging of the little Muppet tour train, the rumbling hooves of the ‘indoor running of the bulls,’ and cheering crowds. Ambience is dry, but expressive, while incidental effects have been amped up a bit for cartoonish impact. Of course, the musical moments are the track’s peak moments, including aggressive and intricate instrumentations, beautifully harmonized background vocals, and punchy directional enhancements.
- The Statler and Waldorf Cut (1:40, HD) – Alongside ‘The Unnecessarily Extended Cut,’ this disc includes a shorter version, supposedly cut together by Statler and Waldorf. It includes only the Disney title screen, one of Statler and Waldorf’s jokes, and colour bars.
- The Longer Longest Blooper Reel in Muppets History (9:50, HD)
- Rizzo’s Biggest Fan (2:50, HD) – A little short film where Rizzo sends an email under a pseudonym to the director in hopes of getting a part in the sequel (I don’t believe he has a speaking part).
- 'I’ll Get You What You Want' music video by Bret McKenzie (3:20, HD)
Muppets Most Wanted is entertaining and silly, but has only a fraction of the previous film’s sentimental success or heart. Again, it works very well in parts, leading me to hope that Disney brings back a Muppets variety hour that utilizes this creative staff’s talents, rather than stumbling through another feature-length release (though, I understand that the Lady Gaga special wasn’t quite so good). This Blu-ray is clean and colourful, features a boisterous 7.1 soundtrack, but is light on extras. Even fewer supplements ended up on the release than the press release originally promised.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 12th August 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Latin Spanish, and Dolby Digital 2.0 English DVS Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, and French
Extras: The Unnecessarily Extended Cut, The Statler and Waldorf Cut, The Longer Longest Blooper Reel in Muppets History, Rizzo’s Biggest Fan, 'I’ll Get You What You Want' Music Video, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Bobin
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel
Genre: Adventure, Comedy and Family
Length: 113 minutes
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