"The Muppets Wizard of Oz"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)
Steve Whitmire as KERMIT THE FROG
Dave Goelz as GONZO
Eric Jacobson as MISS PIGGY/FOZZIE
Ashanti as DOROTHY
Jeffrey Tambor as THE WIZARD
Queen Latifah as AUNTIE EM
David Alan Grier as UNCLE HENRY
Directed by: Kirk R. Thatcher
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It’s kind of a shame what’s happened to the Muppet movies. I remember the days when they were the event films of the summer. The first “Muppet Movie” broke new ground and was a rousing success at the box office. However, when Jim Henson died in 1990, some of the magic died with him. “Fraggle Rock” and “The Bear in the Big Blue House” didn’t quite continue the magic of Kermit and friends. (And don’t get me started on that hideous “Muppet Babies” cartoon!)
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Now, the Muppet movies have been relegated to made-for-TV status. Even the Sesame Street movies like “Follow That Bird” and “Elmo in Grouchland” get better play than the Muppets. Maybe this was because of the Disney acquisition years ago. The Muppets were no longer someone’s baby. They are now just another cog in the corporate kids programming wheel. After all, who needs a talking frog in love with a talking pig when you’ve got talking mice and ducks?
But when you dig down and actually find (and watch) the new Muppet material, some of the magic is still there.
The latest Muppet movie is “The Muppets Wizard of Oz,” which follows in the great steps of Jim Henson by turning a story on its ear. In a strange way, the Muppets have gone full circle, considering their earliest film were TV movies of classic stories like The Frog Prince. (I happen to be a big fan of the old Frog Prince movie that introduced us to little Robin the Frog years before “The Muppet Show” hit the airwaves.)
In “The Muppets Wizard of Oz,” the Muppets are actually supporting players in this retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.” Music star Ashanti leads the cast as Dorothy, a young girl from Kansas who is trying to get out of her small town and become a star. She misses an audition with the Muppets and gets caught in a tornado on her way home. Her trailer is picked up by the twister and sent to Oz.
This is when the Muppets really come into play. Dorothy’s prawn shrimp Pepe comes to life as a Muppet (which channels Antonio Bandaras as Puss in Boots from “Shrek 2”). All your Muppet stand-bys take on the characters from the land of Oz. The Munchkins are rats, led by Rizzo. Miss Piggy plays all four witches. Kermit is the Scarecrow. Fozzie is the Cowardly Lion. And Gonzo is the Tin Thing.
There’s a nice dosage of Muppet humor, which transcends the level of simple kids programming. For example, in the introduction of the Scarecrow, Kermit says to a crow that it reminds him of the film “The Passion.” The crow retorts by telling him not to spoil then ending of the movie. That joke is going to sail high over the heads of most children. And that’s okay. It’s these pieces of the film that make it fun to watch for adults.
The movie is clever enough, and there aren’t too many songs to slow things down. Ashanti does a fine job interacting with the Muppets. It’s a shame that Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry never really get a chance to have fun with the little furry friends.
The DVD is a little weak on special features. However, the little that we’re given is a lot of fun. There’s a hilarious outtake reel, which is always a treat with Muppets. Watching them flub their lines and stay in Muppet character reinforces the feeling that they are real. There’s also a behind-the-scenes tour with Pepe the shrimp. Finally, there’s an extended Quentin Tarantino interview with Pepe that is pretty funny. Of course the kids aren’t going to know who Tarantino is considering he has yet to direct something that isn’t rated R, but it’s fun to watch for the parents.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Fullscreen (1.33:1). English subtitles for the hearing impaired.