Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Sesame Street movie in the works

A new Sesame Street movie is in the works, following Follow That Bird (1985) and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland. According to The Hollywood Reporter Fox bought the movie rights to the popular children's show while Shawn Levy will direct. Levy is perhaps best known for the Night at the Museum movies which should make him at least familiar with one citizen of the world's most famous street; none other than Oscar the Grouch made an appearance in the second Night.

Joey Mazzaro will be responsible for the script who has been a head writer of Sesame Street since season 40. (2009)
With a sequel to the The Muppets being developed, a Fraggle Rock movie in the works and now a Sesame Street movie announced it looks like the Muppet productions are getting bigger than ever.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Muppets 2011 Blu ray Review

About 5 months after Muppets 2011 has hit the theatres in Europe we can finally own the movie on DVD/Bluray. The movie itself is great but how much does the Bluray add or subtract from the experience? Is it worth your hard earned money or should you just rent it or watch it on demand?

The Movie

After 12 years, the Muppets are finally back in theatres. Was it worth the wait or are we better off just remembering the Muppets the way they were?

"The Muppets? Great show back then. What? They still excist?" While it's true that The Muppet Show and subsequent movies were big hits even the biggest Muppet fan can't deny that the Muppets started to fade away from the public eye since Jim Henson's death. Their last theatrical movie, Muppets in Space was a box office disappointment and their last telefilm Muppets' Wizard of Oz was even worse recieved. This year however, (or last year if live in the United States) Disney is poised to bring the felt faced creatures back into the spotlight with a new movie simply called The Muppets. With a title like that you might think the movie's a reboot of the franchise but on the contrary; the movie is a sequel of some sorts to all previous Muppet productions. However, Disney is aware of the fact that a whole generarion grew up with the Muppets and there's a whole new generation who barely even heard of the franchise. They set out to make a movie that's both for the older fans and the fans-to-be but did Disney succeed?

In this movie we meet the newest Muppet, Walter. Walter is the world's biggest Muppet fan and together with his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) travel to the Muppet Studios to finally see where all the magic happened. The studio hasn't been used in years however and looks like a wreck. It gets worse when Walter sneaks into Kermit's old office and accidentally overhears Waldorf and Statler talking to the rich oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Richman plans to level the Muppet Studios in order to drill for oil. The only way he can be stopped is by raising ten million dollars in order to repurchase the studios. Walter, Gary and Mary look for Kermit and tell him the bad news. Our froggy hero decides to try and raise the money with a big Muppet Telethon but the problem is he hasn't seen the gang in a long time so he, along with his new friends, try to bring the Muppets back together and raise the money needed.

Judging by this summary you might mistake the story for generic, boring and predictable but the story is actually pretty smart written with the underlying question if the Muppets are still relevant in 2012 woven in through the film. The movie acknowledges the slump the franchise has been in head on and uses this to its advantage. The Muppets tries to prove that there is room for the clean, crazy humor that the brand is known for. This time they don't try to stay hip by jumping on a currently coolbandwagon o like they did in Muppets' Wizard of Oz. They simply do what they do best; making us laugh in a same way they did when we first met them in the seventies.

One of the reasons the franchise has been in a slump is the deaths of prominent Muppeteers like Jim Henson and Richard Hunt as well as the semi-retirement of Muppeteers like Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson. Subsequent productions ommitted a lot of their Muppets or relegated them to smaller roles and cameos.
These Muppet productions thus felt a little incomplete since the strength of the franchise lies in the big cast of characters and when certain characters that were popular on the Muppet Show simply don't appear or only have cameo roles it shows.
The Muppets is a comeback of sorts for a lot of characters that were notably missed through the years like Dr. Teeth, Rowlf and Scooter and a slew of lesser known characters like Link Hogthrob and Wayne & Wanda. The cast of the Muppets is finally complete again and it's firing on all cylinders. It just wouldn't feel like a proper Muppet Telethon without Scooter warning acts that there are "15 seconds to curtain" or Rowlf playing the piano. The Muppeteers taking over these roles are doing a great job.

The stronger cast of Muppets also eliminates the need for a big human lead like earlier movies attempted. Jason Segal and Amy Adams perfectly supplement the movie without taking up too much screen time. They feel completely natural in the Muppet world and it shows they had a great time making the movie.

With the lead parts hanging on the shoulders of the Muppets it's pretty hard to tell an convincing story that also appeals to mature fans. It does work though and the reason the Muppet characters work on screen is because they're three dimensional, they're like us. They're not perfect. They laugh, get angry but also get hurt . Kermit hasn't seen his friends and Piggy in a long time and when he's singing about it and is hurting inside,we're hurting inside because even though they're puppets they experience the same feelings we've experienced. Don't get me wrong, the Muppets is far from a somber movie but it does have some truly touching moments and that makes the movie that much stronger. For a movie about felt covered lifestock to touch people it has to be truly special. And it is.

Muppet movies have always been accompanied by great music and The Muppets proudly continues this tradition. The original songs, written by Bret McKenzie of Flights of the Concords fame are great and perfectly fit the feeling of the movie. Life's a Happy Song is an upbeat song, reflecting the Muppets positive outlook on life while Pictures in my Head is an poignant song, describing Kermits feelings on the split up of the Muppets. Accompanying Bret's songs are some song parodies like an amazing cover of Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit by Rowlf, Sam the Eagle, Beaker and Link Hogtrob in a Barbershop quartet style Cleverly, they let Beaker sing (or rather, 'meep') the more profane parts of the lyrics, effectively eliminating those parts. Several Muppet classics are reprised with this movie containing both a (intentionally) horrible and a truly fantastic version of The Rainbow Connection. A review of the offical soundtrack will be up very soon, with a more in depth look at the songs.

The Muppets is fantastic return to form for the Muppets but is there really nothing wrong with it? Well, a strange choice is the cutting of a part of Tex Richman's rap. The soundtrack version contains an operatic part which explains why Richman hates the Muppets. The movie cut the rap short, omitting this part and making his 'maniacal laugh' comments a bit more random. It works as random humour but it's strange that they cut it just to shave of a minute of the movie. The entire song will be an extra on the Blu-ray release.

If they cut that bit to save time, they should have cut the Me party song. It is a nice song but doesn't really add anything to the movie. I'm also puzzled to see why they made this song a cutaway duet between Mary and Miss Piggy. Adding another character to the song was unneccesary and made it feel like a filler song, added just so that Amy Adams and Piggy could sing a duet.
A general complaint about Muppet movies is that Muppet X's part is too small with Muppet Y hogging to much of the spotlight. This was especially the case with the post-Henson movies and isn't really resolvable with such a big cast. If you say, give Scooter more screentime Sam the Eagle-fans would complain about Scooter hogging up valuable screen time and vice versa. I would have liked to see more of Gonzo but as it is, screentime is pretty evenly divided.

Overall The Muppets is a great movie and and an even better movie if you're a Muppet fan. The Muppets are back in full force and haven't been this funny in years. The movie is funny, poignant, exciting and you're guaranteed to leave the theatre without a big smile and humming the catchy Life's a Happy Song.

Disney has a high reputation when it comes to Bluray video and the Muppets doesn't disappoint. Presented in a 1:78 ratio, the Muppets 2011 looks as vibrant and clear as can be which primarily can be seen on the Muppets itself as the sharpness of the image is displayed best when seeing the fabric on Kermit and friends. Colors are strong and there are no signs of artifacting or noice.

Muppets 2011 has a great, rich DTS-HD 7.1 mix that makes good use of the surround sound with sounds moving from one box to the other and spreading the instruments and voices during songs in a good way, ensuring that you can pick apart all the different instruments playing during the songs. There is a good balance between the voices and the background music and dialogues sound clear. Besides a 7.1 English track, the Dutch Bluray also hosts a DTS-HR 7.1 French track, a DTS-HR 7.1 Dutch track, and a 5.1 Flemish track.

Extra features
Unlike most Muppet movie home releases Muppets 2011 has a lot of extra features. All the features are on the same disc as the movie and are as follows:

A funny thing happened on the way to the read-through
A nice little sketch about the Muppets going to the script reading for the movie. Although it's billed as lasting 3.00 the last 30 seconds are comprised of the Muppet Show's theme song playing while the screen displays The Muppet logo. Strange way to end a short feature like this.

The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History We Think)
An eight minute blooper reel which admittedly is pretty long. Like most Blooper reels, some bloopers are funny, some not although it's certainly good to see the fun the performers have on set.

Scratching The Surface: A Hasty Examination of the Making of Disney's The Muppets
A 15 minute making of the Muppets 2011. It's more funny than informative but it's entertaining and it features some Muppets that weren't used much in the main feature like Rizzo and Lew Zealand.

Explaining Evil: the full Tex Richman rap
The complete Tex Richman rap, that explains why he hates the Muppets. The rap was featured in it's entirety on the soundtrack but was cut for the movie.

Deleted Scenes
As with most movies that hit DVD/Blu-Ray. The Muppets 2011 also has some deleted scenes on it's disc. Besides the ones listed under the Deleted Scenes there are also some deleted scenes hidden as easter eggs. More on that later.

Missing Verse Life's a Happy Song
A verse that wasn't featured in neither the movie nor the soundtrack that features Walter singing a verse at a slower tempo, like Mary does in the movie. Being that it takes place right after Mary's versie, I can see why they deleted it because it really slows the pace of the song but it's nice to hear it nonetheless.

A Hero in Hollywood
Walter, Mary and Gary arrive at the Grauman Chinese Theater in Los Angeles and want to get their picture taken with a man, dressed up like Superman, played by Rob Corddry
in a cameo role. Very funny scene

Walter's Extended Nightmare
A longer version of Walter's dream at the beginning of the movie where the Muppets escape from the TV screen.

Muppets in Jail
The Muppets get bailed out of jail, a scene that was briefly featured in the second trailer. Cameos by Danny Trejo and Wanda Sykes.

Credit Card Club
Another fictional program the TV executive shows the Muppets to show them how out of touch they are. Boring. Cameos by Sterling Knight and Sarah Hyland.

The Strip Mall Awards
A very funny scene that explains how the Muppets got into jail as they try to get a guest host for their Telethon. Cameos by Kathy Griffin, Ricky Gervais and Billy Crystal.

The complete Muppet Telethon opening
An extended version of the Muppet Telethon opening which features the opening as in the movie but then sees the Muppets walking of the stage, commenting on how well the sequence went.

Bowling for Beaker.
Brief but funny scene with Beaker, Gonzo and Honeydew that features Bunsen's radio controlled bowling ball and a nervous Beaker...

Audio Commentary
An insightful commentary during the film by Jason Segal, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller

Spoof Trailers
A collection of the spoof trailers that let up to the movie's release, including two new ones, based upon Fast Five and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Unfortunately, the Toy Story short Small Fry, that aired before the movie in theatres, is not included. This is a bit strange because the previous Toy Story short that aired in theatres did recieve a home release on the Bluray the movie was originally aired with. (Cars 2)

Also missing is the Muppets Intermission feature, a feature that was dubbed groundbreaking by Disney and was featured on the American Blu Ray. The gist of it is that when you pause the movie the Muppets and cast appear on screen and perform a quick joke, entertaining viewers even when the film's not running. It's too bad that this feature got scrapped from the PAL release.

Easter Eggs
There are also several Easter Eggs to find on the disc. These are all the easter eggs and how to access them:

Highlight Bonus features and press right, An egg will appear. Select this option.
A cut scene from the making of that talks about getting permits when making a picture.

Highlight Play features and press right and then up, An egg will appear. Select this option.
An "oinkterview' with the lovely Miss Poogy appears. I liked Miss Poogy in the movie and this interview with her is an enjoyable extra,

Highlight Bonus features and press left, up, left, An egg will appear. Select this option.
A extended version of the Chicken act from the Telethon plays, featuring a Muppet farmer

Highlight Set Up and press left, up An egg will appear. Select this option.
Another cut scene of the making up that features the Muppet version of the director appears. Just as entertaining as the rest of the making of.

Final verdict
The Muppets 2011 has been a succesful revival of a franchise that has been in a slump for a long time. The Muppet family is finally complete again thanks to the return of several old favorites like Rowlf and Scooter and the film's plot is entertaining and funny. Most of all, it feels like a Muppet movie and not some sort of movie where the Muppets were shoehorned into like some movies from the past.

The Blu ray hosts an impressive amount of extras although it's too bad that the Disney Interaction feature was scrapped for the PAL release and the Toy Story short wasn't included in any of the Blu Ray releases.

Still, the movie is great and Disney delivers a strong presentation with stunning video and a great surround mix and is sure to please anyone remotely interested in the Muppets.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Muppets and the Beach Boys

With legendary rock band The Beach Boys reuniting for a world tour and delivering a brand new album produced by Beach Boy and music legend Brian Wilson it's time to look at the marks they left behind in Muppet history and look back at some of the Beach Boys tributes Jim Henson and his colleagues made.

Miss Piggy and the Muppet pigs performing "I Get Around"

With I Get Around being the first number one hit by the Beach Boys in the United States it seemed like a logical choice for a Muppets cover. The usual beach and sea atmosphere was hard to find in this sketch though as it was performed by the Muppet pigs dressed as a biker gang. Interesting about the production of this number is that in order to make it look authentic the producers ordered real operational (Muppet sized) motorcycles. However, when they arrived, they wouldn't be allowed to run. Because of safety regulations the studio wouldn't allow gas vehicles to run. Muppet fans got a scene behind this hard to make segment in the special Of Muppets and Men.

Kermit performing "Kokomo"

When the Muppets made a album titled Beach Party they covered several Beach Boys songs but only one of the songs on the album was made into a video and that's Kermit's version of Kokomo. This video is particulary noteworthy since it was one of the first videos produced in which Steve Whitmire performed Kermit. The video actually differs a bit from the original recording as it features an alt sax solo that was not heard on the album.

Kermit, Sweetums, and the frogs performing "Surfin USA"

Being that Surfin' USA is one of the most famous Beach Boys songs it's perhaps a bit odd that it got covered so late in the Muppet Show's run but the performance was well worth the wait. In this episode Kermit plays the part of Sinbad the Sailor who, along with his frog henchmen wants to get into a cave. Problem is, the cave is guarded by Sweetums who got strict orders to guard the cave from Sinbad. However, Kermit soon convinces him that he's not Sinbad the Sailor but sinbad the Surfer by singing the Beach Boys hit song.
Surfin' USA was later covered by Kermit and Clifford on the earlier mention Muppets Beach party CD.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The French Muppet Show: Muppets TV

The review of the home release of The Muppets 2011 will be posted soon but in the meantime let's take a look at a Muppet project that most people don't know about, even though it starred most of the original cast. If I'de ask people how many iterations of the Muppets Show have aired most will say one, referring to the original Muppet Show. Most Muppet fans will say two, referring to both the original Muppet Show and the short lived Muppets Tonight that aired in the mid nineties. Ask this question to a French Muppet fan however and he'll probably answer "trios" (three) since France got their own version of the Muppet Show. This wasn't a simple dub of the Muppet Show or Muppets Tonight but an entirely new program, made specifically for the French market starring the original Muppets alongside French guest stars called Muppets TV.

How did this all come about? Let's take a trip back to this year 2005...

French network TF1 and French radio comedian Sebastian Caudet made a deal with the Walt Disney Company to produce a new series for the French market where the Walt Disney Company send the actual puppets to France to get puppeteered by French puppeteers. Caudet himself provided the voice of the French Kermit and was a guest star in the final epsiode.

The show started in 2005 as a 15 minute pilot which featured French humorist Franck Dubosc as the guest star. The pilot contained several sketches including a parody on French TV series Mon Incroyable Fiance starring Miss Piggy. After the pilot a ten episode season was made to air in 2006.

Besides Kermit, a large part of the original cast of the Muppet Show was used in Muppets TV, including Muppets that had been retired for a long time in American Muppet productions like Rowlf, Scooter, the Muppets Newsman and Dr Teeth. Complementing these established stars were new Muppets like Denise and several Whatnots. (nameless Muppet 'extras') In contrast to the American series which were set in a old theater (The Muppet Show) and a television studio (Muppets Tonight) Muppets TV was set on a talk show stage. Like Muppets Tonight, it featured two guest stars per show. Each episode lasted 45 minutes and was broadcast on Sundays. The best bits of each weeks episode where rerun in 5 minute segments from Monday through Friday

Unfortunately, the show failed to hold the interest of the viewing audience and was cancelled in mere months with only 10 episodes produced. While the show was exclusively in France, foreign Muppet fans today can catch a glimpse of the show on Youtube: