The Muppets Blu-ray Review
Package includes: Single Blu-ray, stated to play in A, B and C regions
Directed by: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, The Great Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Scooter, Rizzo, Statler, Beaker, Waldorf, Statler and assorted puppet chickens.
Regardless of whether you love or hate the original Muppets TV show – and the assorted hit and miss movies it spawned – you probably thought Disney’s latest stab at breathing new life into the Muppet franchise was doomed to abject failure.
Times and tastes have changed. Original creator Jim Henson has long shuffled off this mortal coil, and the new films’ driving creative force, writer and lead actor Jason Segel, is best known for amiable turns in strikingly adult comedies, not U-certified kid flicks. Even the idea of Disney funding the new film doesn’t necessarily sit well, raising fears that it will just descend into some horrible schmaltz fest, probably featuring a princess who sings about sunshine.
Against all these odds, though – as well as what appears to have been a pretty tight budget – The Muppets succeeds really quite brilliantly.
The key to its appeal is its pitch-perfect tone, which miraculously manages to combine nostalgia with the original spirit of the show and, crucially, a post-modern, self-referential modern edge without a trace of awkwardness or mawkishness. Segel clearly loves The Muppets with a genuine passion, but he’s also savvy enough not to let the script ever become self-indulgent. The tone is affectionate rather than obsessive or slavish, and this allows its atmosphere to quickly become infectious and engaging.
Even more surprisingly, Segel is humble enough in his own role in the film not to leave it feeling like the vanity project we’d half expected it to be.
The Muppets also succeeds at that all-important trick of appealing to adults and children alike, with plenty of multi-level emotions and humour. Heck, even the handful of songs scattered through the film are all pretty brilliant – especially Life’s a Happy Song, which appears to have taken up near-permanent residence in the CD players of people carriers the world over.
If we had to be really picky we’d say that Bobin’s direction is a touch laboured, failing to deliver the same energy that made the original TV shows shine. Also, the obvious desire on Segel’s part to include prominently as many of the Muppets characters as possible results in us not seeing quite as much as we’d like of some of them – especially Animal and Gonzo.
But these problems only detract a small amount from what’s overall an unexpected pleasure – one that’s done well enough, in fact, to generate a 2013-opening sequel as well as surely playing a big hand in persuading the BBC to greenlight a new No Strings Attached puppet show developed in conjunction with the Jim Henson company.
The makers of The Muppets have very deliberately gone for a ‘TV’ look to their film, using generally naturalistic lighting and a relatively narrow contrast range by typical film standards. But surprisingly, this doesn’t stop it from being a good quality Blu-ray video experience.
The first thing you notice about the 16:9/1.78:1 presentation is how completely devoid of noise it is. There’s none of the grain seen with many films, especially those that deliberately stress the upper reaches of their contrast ranges, and nor is there any sign at all of any MPEG compression noise. This remains true even when there’s lots of motion going on in the image, such as during the final ‘street dance’ sequence. Dark parts of the picture look as clean as bright ones too, avoiding the tendency towards grain or compression blocking that still crops up from time to time in lazier Blu-ray transfers.
HD detail hounds may find the image a fraction soft for their tastes, but we’d put this down again to the desire to give the picture more of a TV show look than a big Hollywood movie ‘sheen’. And anyway, the slightly soft finish certainly doesn’t stop the image from looking genuinely HD, with more texture visible in the fur, feathers and felt of the various Muppet creations than you’ve ever been able to see before. Which is actually quite a treat if you’re as nerdish about these things as we are.
It’s also quite nice to see neither the stressed edges nor the over-gritty effect you get with discs that have had artificial sharpness applied to them. And nor is there any obvious sign of the sort of distracting noise reduction blurring recently seen on the final Harry Potter Blu-ray.
Another big success of the transfer is its colour rendering. This is the only area where the film-makers have allowed themselves to have a bit of fun, using hyper-real, 1950’s style palettes for some of the ‘real world’ footage – especially the domestic scenes – and plenty of saturation in the presentation of the muppets themselves. This is never over-egged, and makes the characters seem better suited to the modern visual era. Plus, as we’ve always said, when it comes to Animal, it’s definitely a case of the redder the better, really.
One last thing that might cause consternation for some is the disc’s motion handling, which delivers a fluidity that looks more like video than 24fps film. But again, you have to think of this in the context of the TV flavour to the production generally, within which it fits perfectly.
Disney has gone to town technically with the soundtrack on this Blu-ray, giving it a full 7.1-channel DTS-HD MA English-language mix. It’s a pity, then, that the film doesn’t really make particularly good use of this mix in terms of either its dynamic range or its placement of effects.
We guess that to some extent this is a function of the film; after all, it’s a gentle U-certified film, not some gun-toting, explosion-fuelled action flick. Its deliberate stylistic nod to its TV heritage perhaps also precludes any great audio pyrotechnics. But all the same we couldn’t help but think that more effort could have gone into building up the film’s sense of space and location – especially its externals – by including more spot effects around the 7.1 channels. For the vast majority of the time all that the various speakers in your system are used for is reproducing the dialogue and the deliberately simple score.
Thankfully this score is excellent and attractively mixed – A Muppet Musical will surely hit the West End at some point! – as well as enjoying that complete freedom from hiss and compression artefacts that’s always such a highlight of a DTS-HD MA mix. That said, there’s no great dynamic range, even during the song and dance sequences.
Maybe in the end we can be charitable and say that the audio mix is all about immersing you in the consistently light tone of the film and doesn’t want to distract you with any showboating. Just don’t expect your speakers – especially your subwoofer – to be given much of a work out.