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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Pete: Rats want job, frog wants job, what's next, penguins?
Penguin: Hey, you got any jobs available?
All: No!
Penguin: "Well, excuse us for living!"- Louis Zurich, Jim Henson, Steve Whitmire, additional Muppet performers

Stars: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Other Stars: Louis Zurich, Joan Rivers, Brooke Shields, Liza Minnelli, Gregory Hines
Director: Frank Oz

MPAA Rating: G for (family film)
Run Time: 01h:34m:13s
Release Date: 2001-06-05
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BC-B B-


DVD Review

For all of his talk of the "magical world of children," Steven Spielberg's films are either too dark or contain too much trite sentimentality to capture the hearts and minds of children or adults. So it's to Jim Henson's credit that he not only understood the "magical world of children," but also managed to take this innate knowledge and create characters beloved by children and adults alike. Jim Henson is of course the creator of the Muppets, cultural icons and perennial staples in the lives of children all over the world.

After proving that he could make viable Muppet films with The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper, Henson then turned to The Muppets Take Manhattan, with a completed script by Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses. Realizing he would be too busy to direct it, Henson turned to Frank Oz, who had previously directed Henson's The Dark Crystal. Oz then significantly reworked the script, and expanded the range of Kermit while adding new chapters to the overall Muppet story.

The focus of this film is Kermit the Frog. In video interviews, Henson gushes over the fact that Oz really added new layers to Kermit with this film, and it shows. Whereas Kermit is usually a happy-go-lucky frog with few cares in the world, in this film he rides an emotional roller coaster, going through a spectrum of emotions that he never seemed to possess before. While part of the credit goes to Oz's script, the contributions of Henson cannot be forgotten here (Henson essentially was Kermit the frog, he even says in an interview that Kermit's voice is his voice with tighter throat muscles).

Kermit isn't the only Muppet in the film though, and the other characters get their fair due. Miss Piggy gets the most screen time aside from Kermit, although we see Fozzie and Rowlf and Gonzo here and there. The most astounding thing about this movie is that Oz and Henson play the majority of the Muppets, and they're able to make each own a distinct individual. In the case of Miss Piggy, Oz really runs the gamut of emotions.

Oz directs the film competently, without being flashy. This means we pay attention to the story at hand, but it also means that it comes off as being without any sort of cinematic style. I suppose Oz felt that children wouldn't appreciate fine directorial style, so he kept it simple. The fact that he also had to keep puppeteers out of the frame might have been another reason for keeping it as simple as possible. While it works for kids, I wish it had a bit more flair.

Not that the film lacks cheekiness. The idea of animal puppets interacting with humans gives the film hundreds of sight gags, such as when a criminal holds a chicken hostage, and Gonzo attacks him. The film is also loaded with cameos. Actors like Elliot Gould, Liza Minnelli, and Brooke Shields appear very briefly, just quickly enough to deliver a few funny lines. Joan Rivers shows up as Miss Piggy's co-worker in a department store, and they have a somewhat lengthy scene together. But by far the best cameo is from the wonderfully talented Gregory Hines. In my favorite scene, Hines comments on a fight between Piggy and Kermit. The film is worth watching just to hear Hines say, "That's what the huggies will get you."

The film's supporting cast doesn't fare as well as the cameo stars. Of all of them, only Louis Zurich as restaurant owner Pete comes off well. While not as bad as Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace, Juliana Donald manages to play the role of Jenny as if she were a bad child actor. Lonny Price is overly sincere as Ronny Crawford, upcoming Broadway producer. Of course, the focus of the film is the Muppets, and since they're played well, the supporting characters aren't as important. But if the filmmakers could get famous celebrities and good actors for cameos, you'd think they could get some for the larger roles.

The film also has other flaws. The overall plot feels like it's been recycled from the first movie. However, Oz concentrates more on the character of Kermit as opposed to the plot, so the seemingly unoriginal story is forgivable. A few of the songs seem subpar compared to some other Muppet films, but the disarming and unpretentious way the Muppets sing the songs in their awkward yet endearing voices smoothes over the pedestrian nature of many of the tunes. Overall, the good in this film far outweighs the bad.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen 1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyes no
Anamorphicyes no

Image Transfer Review: We have two options for viewing The Muppets Take Manhattan. The first is in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, and the other is in dreaded pan-and-scan. These transfers look washed out. Colors aren't sharp, although there's no color bleeding. I noticed a few compression artifacts, although not so many that they will become a major distraction. Some scenes appear excessively grainy. Overall this is a very disappointing transfer, and the movie deserves better.

Note that the back of the disc mentions widescreen on one side of the disc, and pan-and-scan on the other. This is incorrect. There is only one side on the disc, and both versions of the movie are on that side.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanish, Portugueseyes

Audio Transfer Review: The film is presented in 2.0 mono. While that seems like a contradiction in terms, there it is. This is a suitable transfer. Dialogue is clear, as are ambient effects. There's no hissing or unclear sounds. While it would have been fun to have a 5.1 mix, this mix certainly isn't bad.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Buddy, Muppets In Space, Elmo In Grouchland
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Video interview with Jim Henson
  2. "Muppetisms"
Extras Review: The main extra on this disc is a video interview with Jim Henson. Henson talks about a range of topics, from playing various characters to how they got certain shots to working on location and more. The strange thing about this is that the interview has been cut up into sections. You have to select each section you want to watch from the menu. This can get tedious, as there are more than 20 to choose from, and some of them are two sentences. I don't understand why this interview couldn't have been edited into one full video. Regardless, it's still a wonderful interview and worth watching.

The disc also contains three "Muppetisms." These are by far the strangest extras I've ever seen on a disc. They must have been made as ads for some TV event, but we don't get told what they were made for, so they come off as bizarre. They consist of a Muppet (Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and Pepe, respectively). The first shows Fozzie doing a standup routine and getting booed. The second is Miss Piggy talking to her agent, and being plagued by some clown. The third is Pepe trying to play basketball. Each one has a written message after the payoff, and they make no sense to me. I really wish I understood what these things are, but they escape me.

The disc also has three trailers, one for Buddy, one for Muppets In Space, and the other for Elmo In Grouchland. Interestingly, all three trailers have 5.1 sound mixes. Why the trailers get a 5.1 mix and the movie doesn't is beyond me.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

The Muppets Take Manhattan is good fun for both adults and children. Take that, Spielberg.

Daniel Hirshleifer 2001-06-04