March 21, 2012

Review: The Muppets on Blu-Ray

Filed under: Feature,Reviews — Tags: , , — Joe Hennes @ 9:46 am

It seems like we’ve been talking about this new Muppet movie for years now. (Oh wait, we have.)  And now we’re finally coming up on the end of the saga.  We’ve gone from rumors to photos to parody trailers to real trailers to the film and now we’re talking about the home video.  The only logical next step is the sequel, but that’s another article for another day.

We’ve been watching the Blu-Ray (now out in stores everywhere, if the storeowners are smart) and soaking in all the new content in the bonus features, because this stuff is like chocolate to us.  And for the first time ever, Disney has actually released a Muppet video with a good amount of special features (which, by the way, is pretty damn sad that it took this long).  Let’s take them one-by-one and give you an idea of what’s in there.

Scratching the Surface: A Handy Examination of the Making of The Muppets

This is possibly the best special feature created specifically for a Muppet home video (the best feature ever goes to The Muppet Movie’s camera test footage).  With a British voiceover, simple animations, unnecessary fish facts, and the Helvetica font, it’s great to see a quality feature made for the film.

The host of this feature is “JG”, the Unit Production Monster, and he is hilarious.  We had a feeling there was more to JG, so we reached out to his performer, Tyler Bunch.  Tyler tells us that he created the Rick Moranis-esque voice as a way to annoy Dave Goelz, and that JG stands for “Jade Green”, as in “the color of the monster”.  So, that part isn’t all that interesting.  The video also holds claim to the return of Droop, which is a real treat for both of his fans.

Several celebrities are interviewed, including Kathy Griffin, John Krasinski, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Hyland, Sterling Knight, Rob Corddry, and Wanda Sykes.  What do all of these folks have in common?  Their scenes were cut from the film!  But hey, at least they’ll get their IMDb credit for this Blu-Ray.

The Longest Blooper Reel Ever (Well, In Muppet History – We Think)

Yes, it’s a really long blooper reel.  There’s something inherently satisfying about watching the Muppets screw up on camera.  And we get a lot of that.  Plus wardrobe malfunctions, mugging to the camera, extended ad-libbed scenes, and lots and lots of dancing Muppets.  There’s also a hysterical segment where Hobo Joe needs a joke about a chicken explained to him.  On the downside, some of the “bloopers” are less “bloopery” and more “character interviews”, so I don’t know if that really makes for the Longest Blooper Reel Ever, especially if they’re going to try and make it official with the Guinness Book.

A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read-Through

Kermit and Scooter have to wrangle the Muppet gang for the read-through, and we’re treated to some indoor, outdoor, day and night, and perspective-cheating shots.  It’s a cute bit, and I’m really glad they included it on the home video.  But there’s one little detail missing: The read-through.  We’d heard about this thing in a lot of interviews (notes from the Pixar team, Jason Segel crying when seeing Kermit for the first time, etc).  I suppose I should be happy that we got this video at all (and believe me, I am), but I’d almost rather see the table reading to get a better idea of the genesis of the film.  And to marvel at Jason Segel’s giant baby tears.

Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song

This is the deleted scene that we all knew was on the cutting room floor from the beginning, and that we knew needed to be seen eventually.  For that, I’m extremely pleased to have it.  Basically, the song includes a few more verses.  Some take place in Tex Richman’s office with more jokes about his wealth (he gold plated his poor cat!), and some are in the form of a flashback to his childhood with the explanation of his hatred for the Muppets and his inability to guffaw.  I’m baffled as to why it was cut in the first place, as the filmmakers even call it out as being a strange cut in the audio commentary (more that later).  My guess: Tex Richman was insulted at the fact that it showed him as being weak, so he bought Disney and forced James Bobin to make the cut.  It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Deleted Scenes

The fun thing about watching deleted scenes is trying to figure out why they were cut, and deciding whether you think the cuts were worthy or not.  I won’t go through them all, but here’s a few that stood out to me.

“Walter’s Extended Nightmare” has more footage from his Muppet-filled dream at the beginning of the film.  I liked this a lot, especially because it let us see the Muppets run around and act crazy early on, when we wouldn’t be seeing most of them appear for another 15 minutes or so.  It did slow the story down, but I think it could’ve been worth it.

Some of the scenes were just plain unfunny.  “A Hero in Hollywood” features Rob Corddry as costumed Superman (with a pot belly and no “S” emblem) falls completely flat.  “Credit Card Club” didn’t seem to have any real jokes either.

My favorite deleted scene is “The Strip Mall Awards”, which featured cameos by Ricky Gervais, Kathy Griffin, and Billy Crystal.  It was mostly funny and featured some quality Scooter time, but it also led directly into the prison scene (with Wanda Sykes and Danny Trejo), which was definitely worthy of being cut.  Not that I don’t love the idea of the Muppet gang in full tuxedo garb in a tiny prison cell, but it featured another example of “mopey Kermit” and “Walter saves the day”, none of which did anything to move the plot along.

Theatrical Spoof Trailers

Possibly the best part about the road to the film was the influx of movie trailers, both real and parody.  The home video has seven of the spoof trailers (none of the real trailers, strangely enough), including the first “Green With Envy” and the brilliant “Green With Envy Spoof”.  We also get two new spoof trailers, including “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “The Fast and the Furious” parodies.  Those Muppets sure do know how to make fun of movies!

Audio Commentary

Jason Segel, director James Bobin, and co-writer Nicholas Stoller gather around a microphone to provide the commentary track for the film.  The best part about this trio is that they genuinely sound like they’re having a great time.  James Bobin talks a lot about Muppet factoids (making me all the more happy that he’ll be working on the sequel), Jason Segel compliments his own dancing skills, and Nick Stoller asks questions about CGI and British slang to keep the conversation moving.  There wasn’t a ton of new information in the commentary, but here are a few things that caught my ear:

  • The actress who played Walter’s prom date in the photo at the beginning of the film also appears as an extra during the Muppet Telethon and outside the Muppet Theater.  Bobin joked that he likes to think that she’s still obsessed with Walter and followed him to Hollywood.
  • At the end of the film, Alan Arkin’s “Mahna Mahna” sounds strange because he’s doing an impression of James Bobin.
  • Sweetums’ scene at Mad Man Mooney and Sons was filmed at the same location as the car lot in The Muppet Movie.
  • Molly Ringwald, who Kermit called during the “We Built This City” montage, almost made a cameo during the Telethon.
  • James Bobin made a cameo (only seen from behind) as the director in the booth cuing the beginning of the Telethon.
  • During the “Rainbow Connection” group scene, the characters alternate between live-hand and rod puppets so they could actually hold hands as they walk out onto the stage.

But while the commentary was fun and interesting, it still seems like a gaping hole to not have a commentary with any of the Muppet performers.  I understand that Disney wants to keep the “magic” hidden, but the Muppets aren’t Santa Claus; kids know they’re not real.  Just imagine what we could’ve learned from an audio track with Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson talking about the chemistry between Kermit and Piggy, or with Dave Goelz reminiscing about his decades of work with the Muppets, or Peter Linz who made his big screen starring debut with this film.

Disney Intermission

I love this new feature.  When you pause the movie, a new video appears with Muppets passing by the screen, voiceovers by Kermit, Gonzo’s vacation pictures, sneak peeks of the other videos on the disc, and (my favorite) Gonzo’s nose trick (you’ll just have to see it for yourself).  It’s a pretty clever idea, putting stuff on the screen when it’s normally supposed to show someone in a blurry mid-blink.  The only downside is that if you want to pause so you can run to the bathroom, you’ll want to stay on the couch and watch the intermission.  Thankfully, the pause menu is pausable, so you’ll be able to watch the whole thing without potential bladder damage.

Easter Eggs

Finding those Easter eggs wasn’t easy!  But our endless button-mashing helped us find most of them.   We found “Cluck You”, the chickens’ extended music video.  There’s a video of JG talking about permits (hilarious).  We also found an extended clip of “Punch Teacher”, featuring Ken Jeong and a very patient educator.  There’s a bizarre, yet strangely alluring interview with Miss Poogy (who is much funnier here than in the film… and now I’m hoping we get to see her again someday).  And we get a closer look at the Muppet version of James Bobin, as he and JG talk about that Muppet Telethon logo (and are unable to lift the set piece).

If you’re having trouble finding the Easter eggs, click here for instructions.  But I highly recommend trying to find them yourself first!  The search is half the fun!

That All Sounds Great! So, What Stinks??

The biggest complaint from the fans is that these special features (aside from the blooper reel) are only on the Blu-Ray, and not the DVD.  So for those of us who haven’t made the big ticket purchase for the Blu-Ray player, the bonus content will have to wait until we get that birthday check from grandma.

But the biggest complaint I have is the same thing I said about the commentary: There is no representation of the Muppet performers anywhere on this home video.  No commentary, no tops of their heads in the blooper reel, no talking head segments during the making-of.  Speaking of that making-of (that was unfortunately worded… sorry), the aptly-named “Scratching the Surface” does just that, showing us the brightly-colored Muppets but not the brilliant people who bring them to life.  Aside from the commentary, all of the special features spout the conceit that the Muppets are making their own movie, with little to no respect for the puppeteers.  And wouldn’t that make a much more interesting making-of featurette?  An actual video of the puppet builders, costumers, computer animators, and yes, Muppeteers honing their crafts and creating the magic we see on the screen?  If you asked me (and you must have, or else I wouldn’t still be rambling on), I’d say this was a terrible loss, and I can only hope somebody somewhere puts that background footage to good use someday for a feature that offers the information and acknowledgement we all want to see.

In Conclusion

I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t know Disney had the capability to make a Muppet home video release with a solid amount of quality bonus features.  Every other Muppet DVD release has been so bare-bones, I tend to stick to my old VHS copies (yeah, I’m still rocking the giant green clamshell cases).  But they finally pulled through and gave us what we wanted.  Well done, Disney’s Home Entertainment Department!

Now we can only hope that the classic Muppet movies will get a similar treatment.  And that the Muppet performers will get their due credit.  And that seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show will be released.  Okay, so we still have a long way to go.  But what a start!

Thanks to Zach H. for his help with the Easter Eggs!  Click here to record your own commentary for the ToughPigs forum!

by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com



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