The Muppet Movie wasn't destined to be the fabled last ride of Kermit and the gang, though. Far from it. Catapulting to $70 million at the domestic box office thanks to enviable buzz, consistently positive reviews and enthusiastic word of mouth, it was a resounding validation for Henson and company that paved the way for five additional feature films. (Although none would have the same impact or financial success as the original. Even the well-received, highly praised franchise revival, The Muppets (2011), which earned $158 million worldwide, doesn't touch the The Muppet Movie's box office take when adjusted for inflation.) Nearly thirty-five years after its release, The Muppet Movie hasn't aged as gracefully as other late '70s classics. Its laughs aren't as sharp, and its cameos and fourth wall comedy don't pack as much punch. But from the moment Kermit plucks the first few notes of "Rainbow Connection" to the song's triumphant return later in the film -- "Life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending, we've done just what we've set out to do!" -- the original Muppet classic delivers the same joy, inspires the same wonder and boasts the same warmth it did all those years ago.
The Muppets' first theatrical adventure goes all the way back to the beginning. Before it was time to play the music, light the lights, or get things started... sing along: "on the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational, this is what we call The Muppet Show!" Back to a time before fame and fortune found the Muppets; when Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) had a chance encounter with a Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) and set out from his swamp in the south to become the most successful frog in showbiz. Before meeting failed stand-up comedian Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz). Before Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Animal (Oz). Scooter (Richard Hunt). Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz). Rowlf the Dog (Henson). The inseparable Bunsen and Beaker (Golez and Hunt). Before Miss Piggy (Oz). But as we soon find out, Kermit and the Muppets' meteoric rise didn't come easily. Kermit had to first evade obsessive restaurant owner Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) and his right-hand man Max (Austin Pendleton), acquire a reliable set of wheels to make the trip, escape the clutches of an evil German scientist (Mel Brooks), overcome every obstacle in his path, and eventually make an impression with studio exec Lew Lord (Orson Welles). The rest, as they say, is Muppets history.
Along the way there are cameos aplenty -- Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, James Coburn, Elliott Gould, Milton Berle, Madeline Kahn, Edgar Bergen, Carol Kane, Telly Savalas, and Cloris Leachman, among others -- and self-referential, self-aware humor without end, including enough mad meta mindedness and film-within-a-film gags to make The Muppet Movie a distinctly Muppety Muppets movie. Yes, the plot is as tissue-thin as they come. Yes, the human characters are infinitely more one-note than Kermit and his puppet pals. Yes, jokes that killed in the late '70s tend to elicit little more than polite smiles at times, unintended groans at others. And yes, young, impressionable Muppet fans won't be quite as enamored with The Muppet Movie as they were with its pseudo-remake-slash-reboot-slash-sequel in 2011.
To all that, and really any complaint about the essence of a Muppets production, movie or series, now hear this: every Muppet maniac worth his salt should scream, "yeah, so what!?" The Muppet Movie isn't for everyone, so let's dispense with that. No movie is, least of all one about a rusty bus full of puppets banding together to make it big in Hollywood. If you didn't already love Henson's zany progeny, this certainly won't be the film that spurs a dramatic conversion. The genius of the Muppets, though, has been, is and always will be its rejection of neat-n-tidy convention -- often despite its family friendly nature and off-the-wall lunacy -- and the big ol' heart every Muppet movie, for better or worse, richer or poorer, pins proudly on its sleeve. You won't find coldness or cynicism here, which is just fine by this lifelong fan. The Muppet Movie isn't the Muppets' finest hour (and a half), but it is a fantastic time at the movies, and it holds up... even when it doesn't.
The Muppet Movie makes a long, hard trip through time and arrives on Blu-ray in style thanks to a smartly, respectfully (albeit not perfectly) remastered 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation sure to score extra points with Muppets diehards. The film is grainy, although not quite as garishly grainy as it's been in the past, meaning it's been subjected to some amount of digital manipulation. Fortunately, the good far outweighs any bad that appears, and the overhaul is much more a blessing than anything resembling a curse.
Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track sadly isn't a remarkable lossless mix, or even the joyous celebration you'd expected. Prioritization and clarity are a bit sticky; lines are sometimes tinny or buried, effects are hit or miss, and the soundtrack's instrumental music is occasionally muffled (the worst of which occurs right at the outset, as the camera pans down on the studio lot). But, overall, front-heavy as it can be, it's a solid offering that's generally faithful to the film's original sound design.
Jim Frawley's Extended Camera Test: In 1978, director James Frawley filmed a pre-production test reel to determine how best to shoot Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the gang in the real world.
Frog-E-Oke Sing-Along: Sing along to "Rainbow Connection," "Movin' Right Along" and "Can You Picture That" with the help of dynamic text. Unfortunately, the film footage that accompanies "Rainbow Connection" is window-boxed and nearly SD.
Pepe Profiles Present Kermit: A Frog's Life: Pepe the Prawn investigates Kermit's early years and career, and interviews the frog behind all the stories.
Disney Intermission: Pause the film to be treated to a few songs.
Doc Hopper's Commercial: Hopper's restaurant promo, in all its widescreen glory.
Original Trailers: The film's original teaser and theatrical trailers, in HD no less.
The Muppet Movie -- rightfully labeled The Original Classic -- is a blast from The Jim Henson Company past. Dated though it may be, there's a timeless quality here that continually taps into an ageless, childhood joy, even some thirty-five years after its debut. Disney's Blu-ray release showcases that timelessness and agelessness well. Enjoy Disney's (mostly) impressive video presentation and decent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and look ahead to where the Muppets are going next. Even if this is as good as a Blu-ray release of The Muppet Movie ever gets, it's good enough -- and then some -- to warrant a spot in your collection.