With Kermit hitting the fifty year mark and potentially having a midlife crisis, Disney has decided to re-release four of the Muppet films from years past on DVD. Among these is a smattering of material from when Jim Henson was still with us and these are arguably the best. While the original Muppet movie may be my personal favorite of the bunch, the sequel feature; The Great Muppet Caper, comes in a close second.
In The Muppet Movie characters put together a story about how they all met and how they came to be in the business. It was a lighthearted picture with a lot of laughs, classic music and cameos by several top stars of that time period. The film was reminiscent of a lengthy skit from The Muppet Show with plenty of gags and an entertaining tale to tell. Two years later Great Muppet Caper was released and it had the same feeling of the show that the original movie had, but it went in a slightly different direction.
Instead of playing as themselves, the characters stepped into different roles and attempted to tell a mystery. Kermit and Fozzie play as a pair of newspaper reporters that also happen to be twins. The only way to tell them apart is that bears wear hats; frogs don't. Along with Gonzo the pair gets sent first class (IE: crates dropped out of an airplane) to London to cover a diamond heist and interview a fashion designer named Lady Holiday. What they find is a love-struck pig with aspirations of being a model who impersonates Ms. Holiday in an attempt to get closer to Kermit. What ensues is a thin (yet Muppetly insane) plot to catch the thief, get the girl and print the story.
As with just about everything else ever done in the Muppet universe, this film is very self-referencing and witty. There are several moments where the characters refer to the script or lines, and even a couple of points where they make comments to the camera. Even though the direction of the picture is slightly different than what The Muppet Movie tried to accomplish, the charm and personality of Henson's creation finds its way into every facet of production.
Also like past endeavors, what Muppet project would be complete without a cast of guests? This time around you can expect to see Peter Ustinov, John Cleese, Robert Morley, Diana Rigg, and Charles Grodin. In one scene there is even a delightful interaction between Henson and Gonzo, which I had actually forgotten about from when I had seen the movie last. Just like Big Bird in The Muppet Movie another Sesame Street character pops in for a brief cameo as well. The star-caliber offering in the second film may not be as grand as the first, but it's certainly nothing to scoff at.
Just like the list of cameos in the picture, no Muppet venture would be complete without a soundtrack filled of unforgettable songs. From "The First Time It Happens" to "Happiness Hotel" and even "Hey, A Movie!" you can't go wrong with the musical selection here. They simply don't make soundtrack material like this anymore and seeing the production in action on film harkens back to the days of yore when movies had personality and flare.
Great Muppet Caper may not be the best film ever made, but it stands very well on its own. The material here is classic Henson and that alone is enough for any Muppet fan to love it. There are plenty of guest stars, musical numbers, running gags and laugh-out-loud jokes. As if you need more of a reason to see the movie, just watching it for the Miss Piggy's water ballet scene is easily worth the price of admission.
Just like the transfer found in The Muppet Movie, the one featured here is disappointingly similar to the Columbia/TriStar release from 2001. There is very little difference between the original DVD release and this reissue, which needless to say is a let down. The film retains its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and the disc includes a pan and scan version as well, though this time it's on the same side as the widescreen option. The image quality in Great Muppet Caper is undoubtedly finer than in the original film which saw its release two years prior. There are still plenty occurrences of grain, speckle and softness in the picture, but considering the film stock wasn't the best to begin with it looks fairly decent for a 24 year old movie.
Disney's re-release of Great Muppet Caper has dropped a couple of the original audio tracks, but has retained the French 2.0 and English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. You'd think that the 5.1 track would provide a great aural experience, yet it doesn't. The audio proves to be very flat and lifeless for the most part with all material coming from the center channel. There are a few glimmers of directionality here and there, but aside from the musical numbers the rear speakers hardly get any play. I recognize that there was probably very little that could have been done to spruce things up based on the original material, but some more effort would have gone a long way.
While the Columbia/TriStar version of the film didn't have all that much in the way of interesting bonus content, Disney's edition has even less. The only extra material on this disc is another Pepe Profile. This time it's for the greatest diva of them all, Miss Piggy. Just like the profile for Kermit on The Muppet Movie release, this one features a bunch of interviews and information about the character. I thought that Miss Piggy's was all around better, but as a stand alone feature it doesn't carry the disc.
Great Muppet Caper a lot of fun for the whole family and is easily the second best Muppet film. The movie is a must have for Henson fans and a must see for folks who may just be discovering his genius. Unfortunately, the treatment that the movie got for this re-release didn't really do it justice. The video and audio quality is acceptable based on the circumstances surround the film's production and time period, but Disney has put together some higher quality remasters before. The lack of any real bonus material is also a downer for those looking to upgrade. In the end this release is really recommended for viewers that weren't able to get the prior edition, because there is little difference between the two.
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