The Muppets' Wizard of Oz review by Mike Long

There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning remakes and the lack of creativity in Hollywood. Judging by the recent box-office performances by some of these films, it's quite clear that it isn't just movie-fanatics, but the general public as well, who have grown tired of seeing the same stories done over and over. Yet, there is one group of entertainers who have been given carte blanche by both the entertainment industry and viewers alike to put their own personal stamp on pre-existing tales. That would be The Muppets and it's always interesting to see how they are going to twist a well-known story. Their latest target is the beloved novel "The Wizard of Oz", which aired on ABC television as The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, and is now available on DVD.

The Muppets' Wizard of Oz follows the original film and the book (to an extent), but it adds its own ingredients as well. R&B singer Ashanti stars as Dorothy, a lonely girl who lives in Kansas with her Auntie Em (Queen Latifah) and Uncle Henry (David Alan Grier) and works with them in their diner. Dorothy's only friend is her pet king prawn Toto and she dreams of leaving Kansas to become a famous singer. She is heart-broken when she misses her opportunity to audition for The Muppets, who are seeking an "All-American Girl" for their new show. Dorothy's misfortune worsens when her the trailer park where her family lives is hit by a tornado. Running back inside to save Toto, Dorothy finds her homes lifted by the twister and carried to a strange land.

While Dorothy is unhurt by her journey, she is surprised to see that Toto (now played by Pepe the King Prawn) can now talk. Emerging from their wrecked abode, Dorothy and Toto find themselves confronted by The Munchkins, who are rats (and lead by Rizzo the Rat). They also learn that their house has crushed and killed the Wicked Witch of the East (played by Miss Piggy). Her sister, Tattypoo, the Good Witch of the North (also Miss Piggy) gives Dorothy a pair of enchanted shoes and directs her to seek help from The Wizard who lives in Emerald City. (Except in this version, Dorothy is less concerned with getting home than she is with being a singing star.) So, Dorothy and Toto set forth on the yellow brick road, where they meet a Scarecrow (played by Kermit the Frog) who wants a brain, a Tin-Thing (played by Gonzo) who wants a heart, and a Lion (played by Fozzie Bear) who lacks courage. As this odd group makes their way to Emerald City, they are being watched by the Wicked Witch of the West (once again, Piggy), who seeks vengeance for the death of her sister and wants Dorothy's magical shoes.

As with The Muppets' Christmas Carol and The Muppets' Treasure Island, The Muppets are able to walk that fine line between reverence and satire in The Muppets' Wizard of Oz. As noted above, the story sticks to the basic framework of the original story, but tosses in many new elements, such as Dorothy’s aspirations to be a star. Along with the main characters, all of whom are given new life through their Muppetization, there are some new additions, most notably the assortment of odd beings who inhabit the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle. As with the 1939 film, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz is a musical and there are a few original songs here.

While The Muppets still offer a certain level of quality family entertainment, the heyday of The Muppet Movie is long-gone (it's hard to argue against the fact that things haven't been the same since Jim Henson died) and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz offers a mixed bag. The film carries The Muppets' trademark sarcastic and sly humor. Miss Piggy and Pepe have some great lines and they prove that no one can get away with being incredibly sassy like a Muppet. And, as usual, it's fun to pick out all of the different Muppets in the background. But, the movie has some major problems, the worst being Ashanti. When someone looks stiff next to what is essentially an inanimate object, you know that the person is not a very good actor. Her performance feels very forced and at times she looks as if she doesn't know what is happening around her. The pacing of the movie drags in the middle and the sequences in the Wicked Witch of the West's castle feel very labored. And while The Muppets have always been masters of creating entertainment which can appeal to all ages, they cross the line a few times here, using the term "sexy" twice. While this may not seem like much, try explaining "sexy" to a 5-year old who loves Kermit the Frog. This isn't to mention the film's odd take on the tale in which Dorothy is focused on stardom and not going home. Muppets fans will certainly find something to like in The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, and the movie does have some funny moments, but when compared to classic Muppets efforts, its clear that some of the magic is gone.

The Muppets' Wizard of Oz floats onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. The film is presented in a 4:3 full-frame aspect ratio, which, if I remember correctly, is the way that it was originally broadcast on ABC. The transfer looks pretty good, as the image is quite sharp and clear, showing no overt grain. The colors on this DVD look fantastic, most notable the greens which dominate the film. I did notice some ghosting on the image, especially when a character would make a fast movement. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which sounds good, but not great. The track provides clear dialogue and the film's music sounds fine. But, there isn't a great deal of action from the subwoofer or the surround speakers.

The DVD contains a few extras. "Oz Oops" is a 5-minute gag reel which contains some very funny moments and shows that the Muppeteers are extremely quick-witted individuals. In "Pepe's Exclusive Making-Of" (7 minutes), we get a behind-the-scenes tour of the set from that funny king prawn, as he interviews some of the cast & crew. Pepe also hosts the "Extended Interview with Quentin Tarantino" (6 minutes). Tarantino has a truly odd cameo in the film and in this funny interview, Pepe asks him many Muppet related questions. The DVD carries a longer cut of the movie than the one which aired on TV. This cut runs some 20 minutes longer and contains a few nice gags which didn't make the original cut.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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