After watching some of the original muppets movies in recent years and episodes of "The Muppet Show" yesterday, "Muppets' Wizard of Oz" is dismaying in comparison. The feature, which made its debut on network TV, was possibly meant for bigger things (we find a pretty substancially longer - 20 minutes - version of the movie here.)
Pop star Ashanti (who should stick with music), stars as Dorothy, a young girl growing up in Kansas, who wants nothing more than to break out of her small town. Running late for her audition for the muppets (what she was auditioning for, we don't know), but she does manage to get her demo tape into the hands of Kermit, much to the dismay of Piggy. Returning home to her aunt (Queen Latifah) and uncle (David Alan Grier) as a storm rages outside, she shares her disappointment. When everyone is forced to run for shelter, Dorothy runs back to get her shrimp, and that's when she's swept away.
Soon enough, she's swept away (with her prawn shrimp, Toto. No, I have no idea why she has to carry around a shrimp, either. It's just that kind of movie.) by a twister and finds himself in the land of Oz, and now Toto is Pepe, a large, talking muppet shrimp. The land of Oz is filled with various muppets, including Piggy, Kermit (who plays the Scarecrow) and the rest of the gang, including the rats as munchkins. Dorothy and her muppet gang go off to see the wizard, hoping that he can do something to solve their problems.
The movie has one big problem, and that's Ashanti. I have no problems with singers attempting acting, but her performance seems pretty disinterested, as she appears to be rethinking the idea of starring in the movie in most of the scenes. The movie even starts off with her in an "imagined" music video. There are also plenty of pop culture references in the picture, including some that will go way over the heads of the intended audience, such as one bit regarding "Dark Side of the Moon". The movie is supposed to be for kids, yet there's quite a few bits targeted directly towards adults.
There's also some just plain weird bits, such as one where the group heads to some sort of underground club where large flowers have sleep-inducing powers and another where Ashanti steps into a makeover machine and comes out as...Kelly Osbourne(!?). Last, but certainly not least, there's a cameo from Quentin Tarantino that not only kids won't get, but seems entirely random.
There's some funny moments here (Kermit sees the Wizard and asks, "Mr. Oz... are you by any chance related to Frank Oz?") and it's great to see some little-seen favorites (Beaker and Dr. Honeydew), but the movie suffers from not knowing who it's audience is supposed to be, the fact that Ashanti is mis-cast and that really, the movie doesn't do anything really imaginative with the often-told tale. Overall, this is rather disappointing, given how wonderful the muppets once were.
VIDEO: The movie is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio by Disney. Issues with the movie aside, it certainly does look good. Sharpness and detail are mostly strong, as the presentation consistently offered a very pleasing level of definition and clarity.
There were a few minor issues, but they weren't much of a concern - a little bit of edge enhancement was seen on a couple of occasions, and some scenes did present a couple of trace instances of pixelation. Colors remained bright and vibrant, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation offered some minor use of the surrounds for reinforcement of the music and minor effects. Aside from that, this is a pretty forward-oriented sound mix, which isn't surprising, given the material. Audio quality was fine, as the dialogue sounded crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: A set of outtakes and bloopers, "Pepe's Exclusive Making Of" documentary, promos for other Disney titles and an extended interview with Quentin Tarantino and Pepe.
Final Thoughts: "Muppets' Wizard of Oz" had the potential to be something inspired and fun, but the movie is a bit much for kids and goes on a bit too long in this extended version. The DVD does offer some minor supplements, as well as fine audio/video quality. Muppet fans may want to try this out as a rental, but otherwise, I'd recommend skipping it and looking for the new "Muppet Show: Season 1" set, instead.