ONE OF 2011'S BEST & BIGGEST BIG-SCREEN TRIBUTES @ 25 March 2012 09:33 PM
Last year, three major films paid tribute to beloved genres, all largely delighting their proponents and enlisting new audiences as to why they were great in the first place. One is the Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Artist, capturing Hollywood's golden age with no cynicism or irony, as seen through the eyes of young French filmmakers discovering the joys of classic moviedom; another is Hugo, an impassioned gateway to a master of celluloid magic, this time drawing the uninitiated into not-to-be-forgotten wonders through his discovery by young people.

The third is The Muppets, the first Muppet project to fire on nearly every cylinder and recapturing the shameless lunacy of Jim Henson's iconic variety show-- once the most popular TV show in the world. Other attempts to bring back their spark have had their moments and should not be dismissed (believe it or not, one project that best captured it in recent years was Elmo's Christmas Countdown with Ben Stiller, which was as much in the spirit of The Muppet Show as Sesame Street.)

It took superfan Jason Segel's A-list clout to get the movie greenlit and Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin's encyclopediac passion for The Muppet Show to make it work. And in the tradition of the self-reflexive, we-know-we're-in-a-movie tradition of the Muppets, the plot is a surprisingly direct address at whether anybody still cares about Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang.

Even Disney, who owns the franchise and released the movie, isn't spared if you know the history: the villain's claim that he owns the names of our friends and they have no rights to them anymore is reminiscent of the attitude attributed to a Disney regime of the past. (But of course, in the words of Basil Fawlty, "We're all friends now!")

Bobin was an inspired selection as director. Though Flight of the Conchords may not seem, at first, to be a cousin in comedy to The Muppet Show (and it's certainly not for children), but the wide-eyed naivete, the shameless absurdity and the earnestness of its main characters is very much in the same vein. Conchords star Bret McKenzie's Muppet songs are very much like sanitized versions of his comic tunes for the Conchords BBC Radio series and HBO TV show.

McKenzie's "Man or Muppet" has made history as the first Oscar winner for the Muppets. Not "Rainbow Connection" nor "The First Time it Happens" won their statuettes -- there hasn't even been a special Oscar for Jim Henson. The song is funny and memorable but I really like "Life's a Happy Song" and Amy Adams' "Party of One."

Speaking of the radiant Ms. Adams, she has little to do in the film (as is the tradition in Muppet productions, after all) but she makes every moment shine. I can't help draw a parallel, this time to another loving tribute film in which she starred -- Enchanted -- which has a lot of similarities in tone and sincerity to The Muppets.



The DVD/Blu-ray/movie & music download package, aka the Wocka Wocka edition, certainly offers a lot for the money. Once again, DVD owners will not get every feature as Blu-ray owners, which still seems not nice.

One thing DVD owners do not get, besides a nicer-looking picture,
is the entertaining audio commentary (thank you!) with Segel, Bobin and co-writer Nick Stoller. Segel constantly ribs the Disney folks in the studio with them by relentlessly cross-promoting in classic Disney synergy fashion, as well as remind us of almost every film in Adams' resume.

One interesting Blu-ray feature is also quite curious: whenever the disc is paused, an "intermission" sequence pops on. Each time, it rests on a different point in a series of connecting gags. It's a nice idea-- but it also prevents the viewer from freezing a frame to catch a quick Muppety gag in the background (a funny sign, inside joke, etc.) So ironically, the DVD owner can freeze frames while the Blu-ray watcher cannot. Wocka wocka, indeed!

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