There are a handful of pivotal films out there that are classics as soon as they are released, and must be watched over and over again throughout one’s life. Some are important, some are dramatic, some are touching, and some are just plain fun. The Muppet Movie, the original motion picture released in 1979 starring Jim Henson’s creations, is all of those at once, with a definite leaning towards the comedic end of things, but with heart, too. Now, it is available on Blu-ray for the first time in The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition.
For those (probably very few) who don’t know the story, Kermit the Frog leaves the swamp to set out for Hollywood, meeting a bunch of friends along the way, including Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Animal, Scooter, Rolf, Sweetums, Swedish Chef, The Electric Mayhem, and more. While traveling, Kermit is pursued by Doc Hopper (Charles Durning, The Sting, Evening Shade), who wants to use the viridescent amphibian to advertise his restaurant, which is kind of like KFC, but with frog legs instead of chicken. With charm, gags, puns, meta references, songs, loads of muppets, and cameos by stars such as Orson Welles, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Elliott Gould, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Cloris Leachman, Carol Kane, Big Bird, among others, there is something magical in nearly every minute of this film.
One would think that such a beloved picture would have all the stops pulled out for it, to present the very best, perfectly remastered, extras-laden edition that fans old and new could appreciate. Some day that might happen, but unfortunately, The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition is not that version.
The picture and audio quality are not much better than the prior DVD versions released. There is a graininess present in practically every scene, and the details are murky, with apparently little to no effort spent on sharpening or enhancing the image. Colors are natural for the time period, but not anything special, and there are few details evident in the black patches, of which admittedly few exist. The soundtrack fares no better, seeming hollow and dated, even if it is pretty much clear from hisses and pops. Overall, it’s a very disappointing effort.
Similarly, many of the bonus features are far from fresh. Present are Doc Hopper’s TV commercial, trailers, and Jim Frawley’s camera test, all of which have been released before, though the packaging seems to indicate the camera test may be longer than on the original. Still, it’s a lot of repetition.
Of the new inclusions, there’s a short profile on Kermit by fellow muppet Pepe and three sing-along “Frog-E-Oke” music videos featuring the big musical numbers from the movie. These are entertaining, but not reason enough to purchase the set if you already have an earlier release, especially considering that’s all you’ll really be shilling out the money for.
The menus are actually very cool, with wonderful design elements. In pop-up mode, they are unobtrusive, but still stylish. The Muppet Movie also has the now-common “Disney Intermission,” which basically means, for this title, that when you press pause, one of the three “Frog-E-Oke” videos play until you start the movie again. Not completely necessary, but a good feature for young children.
If you don’t already own The Muppet Movie, you might as well get this one because it is slightly better than any other version of the film I’ve seen, and the movie itself really is a must-have picture. But it’s not nearly up to what it might have been, and if you already have a copy, it’s certainly not worth paying to upgrade. It’s likely, some time in the future, Disney will do better, so I would recommend holding out for that.