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"Hi there Mr Oz. Are you, by chance, any relation to Frank Oz?"

The Muppets have been delighting audiences worldwide for decades – fifty years to be precise, which is why Disney are promoting their "Kermit’s 50th Anniversary" range. Jim Henson’s creations are vividly animated; appearing more like genuine characters as opposed to lifeless puppets. The magic began when Kermit and crew stirred up all shades of comical lunacy with A-list Hollywood guests on The Muppet Show. This groundbreaking television resulted in a multi-million dollar franchise, comprising of movie spin-offs, cartoons and a colossal merchandising market. The Muppets’ unprecedented success can be explained to good, clean family humour – harnessing adults as well as children with their witty, sophisticated charm. The Muppets have continually evolved in order to maintain their universal appeal, either by collaborating with today’s hottest stars or sketching aspects of modern society. Their latest caper involves the assistance of Grammy Award winner Ashanti in The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, an unusual take on L. Frank Baum’s timeless fantasy.

Muppets' Wizard of Oz, The
Ashanti steps into the silver magic shoes of Dorothy, a Kansas girl desperately seeking to escape from the drudgery of her daily mundane life. A ferocious thunderstorm transports our young heroine and her pet prawn, Toto (yes, seriously), to Oz – a far distant land ruled by an almighty powerful wizard with the ability to grant one’s deepest desires. Dorothy earns to become a famous singer, live the glamour life and become the ultimate idol. She is accompanied by familiar characters – the scarecrow who needs a brain (Kermit), the tin robot who longs for a heart (Gonzo) and the cowardly lion with stage fright (Fozzie Bear). In addition, Toto is transformed into a potty-mouthed Muppet, played by the absolutely hysterical Pepe the Prawn. The crew discover that getting their wishes is going to be more difficult than they previously imagined; after trekking through the perilous Mountains of Death, they have to face the Wicked Witch of the West (played by Miss Piggy) and steal her magic eye. Only then will they achieve what they are truly looking for.

The Muppets Wizard of Oz is a low budget, made for TV affair. As such, it instantly omits the extravagant blockbuster texture that is evident in Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol. However, it still conserves the typically obscene sense of humour. Each character is one to be cherished, lovingly expressing a wealth of inspired insanity with priceless consequences. Whilst the Muppets look adorable to children, the jokes extend towards the more mature members of the audience – a technique that is common amongst Pixar’s productions.

In true Muppet tradition, Kermit and Co. have somewhat diversified the source material, which can either be blasphemous or a virtue depending on where one stands on remakes and TV adaptations. Upon initial inspection, Toto’s introduction as a sleazy Latino prawn immediately results in bitterness and frustration. As the story progresses, he is exactly what the film needs. Of course, Mr Baum would be turning in his grave if he were to discover such a drastic modification to his beloved fairytale. Conversely he may find it very easy to forgive the Muppets – they are merely continuing fifty years of work; providing an alternative edge on popular pieces of literature. Subsequently, Pepe the Prawn diminishes any original uncertainties by becoming the film’s comic relief, providing sharp lines with such precision that he is almost like a family friendly version of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Muppets' Wizard of Oz, The
The film however is not a traditional Muppet masterpiece, namely due to unfortunate casting and some terrible musical numbers. Thankfully there are only two complete songs, three if you include the film’s opening music video. The melodies appear nothing more than lazy tunes that were composed on a rush. Ashanti is absolutely radiant and thankfully looks remarkably healthy; preserving a natural figure instead of being an anorexic twig. In contrast, her talents outside singing certainly do not include acting; her performance, especially considering that she plays the primary character, is disappointingly wooden. To portray sincerity, Ashanti kind of changes her pitch during sentences until she almost sounds like she has been toking helium. Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier only have minor roles as Dorothy’s aunt and uncle respectively. The greatest cameo however goes to Quentin Tarantino, who delivers a sweaty performance as he tries to sell his ending to Kermit. Perhaps the biggest blow to the movie however is the tragic absence of the Muppets’ resident pianist, Rowlf the dog.

The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz also suffers from a slow ending and nonsensical morals that even a gullible child would have trouble deciphering. The closing fifteen minutes drag out the story unnecessarily when it should have been summed up in a concise manner. There is a hint of desperation in the film suggesting that the Muppets are trying to be hip and cool in order to meet with today’s requirements. This should never be the case, they wrote the book on how to be sensational when today’s idols were still in diapers. Instead of targeting the MTV generation, the Muppets should stick to their strengths, work with legendary Hollywood stars and reach the largest audience range possible. Despite the title’s flaws, it still comes across as a thoroughly enjoyable film and goes to show that Kermit and his friends will be blessing our screens for many years to come.

Muppets' Wizard of Oz, The
Video
The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio that has been "formatted to fit your TV." Despite being a TV production, certain frames suggest that the title was originally shot in widescreen. For instance, characters are quite often clumsily centred and side objects remain obscured and incomplete. The pallet transition between the Kansas and Oz scenes is incredibly drastic, where the latter opts for bright phosphorescent shades instead of natural tones. The blues, greens and reds leave a fine impression with only a slight amount of smearing. Skin tones seem unaffected by the location change and stay largely accurate.

The details are a tad soft but perceptible enough to maintain sufficient clarity. Moreover, grain is evident throughout the film and is predominant during the darker chapters. The blacks exhibit a feeble paleness but the shadows remain distinguishable. With the exception of some intense edge-enhancement, other digital misrepresentations such as pixilation and ghosting are thankfully absent.

Audio
The only audio option on the disc is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which is of admirable quality. The dialogue is emitted out of the front channels, whilst the rears handle a vast spectrum of ambient noise. Furthermore, the surrounds add enough reverb to the conversations to enhance the overall texture of the audio. Highlights include the forest scene, where the rear speakers are alive with noisy crickets and woodland animals. The score is also professionally separated; various instruments are assigned to the appropriate channels to provide a kaleidoscopic fusion of music and sound effects.

There are optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired, which are aesthetically pleasing if you can tolerate the bright yellow font.

Muppets' Wizard of Oz, The
Extras
As soon as the disc is placed inside the player, the viewer is treated to trailers that can be skipped, which is usually the current trend for Disney DVD titles.

The first of the bonus features is a hilarious set of outtakes lasting 4m47s. These are done in a Pixar-esque style, almost intentional but notoriously entertaining. Make sure to sit through the entire set of bloopers, the best one is saved till last.

The comedy genius that is Pepe the Prawn hosts a brief  7m21s making of featurette, where he visits the set, interviews the Muppets and generally gets a kick out of causing trouble. Nobody really reveals any artistic or technical intentions but Pepe’s little adventure is more of an extension of The Muppet Show.

Last but not least, there is a humorous 6m16s interview with acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Who better to question the guest of The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz than, you guessed it, Pepe the Prawn? The two discuss Tarantino’s fascination with cinema, lack of friends and of course, the Muppets. The questions appear improvised – method acting at its best. Topics such as Miss Piggy replacing Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and Kermit playing Mr Green in Reservoir Frogs are light-heartedly covered here.

Sadly none of the supplementary materials have any subtitles.

Muppets' Wizard of Oz, The
Overall
Quite clearly not the masterpiece one would expect, the Muppets’ subversive take on L. Frank Baum’s classic literature is still a thoroughly enjoyable romp, filled with hilarity and mayhem. In fact, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz would easily reach the same level of universal appeal as a Pixar title, if it were not weighed down by the pop culture attitude, dreadful songs and poor casting – although the Quentin Tarantino cameo was a welcomed instalment. The image transfer is most definitely cropped from a widescreen source but the pleasant yet brief supplements should ensure a purchase amongst dedicated fans.


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