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The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz
cast: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Ashanti, and Jeffery Tambor

director: Kirk R. Thatcher

120 minutes (unrated) 2005
Buena Vista NTSC DVD
Region 1 rental / retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Noell Wolfgram Evans
The Muppets have had a low profile lately, keeping their appearances down to theme parks and pizza commercials. It's a shame too, because we've missed them. Thankfully they are back with a fun and entertaining take on a classic tale.

The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz debuted on the Wonderful World of Disney television programme in 2005. It marks a return to form of sorts for the group with its clever and catchy music, great pop culture jokes, corny gags that somehow work and self-knowingness that makes the viewer an active participant in the fun.

The Muppets have always been great because they always seem aware of themselves and of what they are doing. Rather than force us to suspend our belief in their actions they make the viewer part of the joke. It creates camaraderie between performer and viewer and it allows the performers to push the boundaries of the story even further. It's almost as if they are saying 'look, we all know this is pretend, so let's pretend this happens way over here too.' It's not as if all movies don't do that to some extent, but so many take themselves so seriously that the moment a hole in the story or implausibility occurs, the relationship with the viewer is lost. The Muppets, though, understand their being so precisely that they are able to work much looser. With them, everyone is allowed to be a part of the inside joke which creates a freewheeling performance and opens the viewer up to accepting these absurd experiences.

That theory is all part of why The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz works so well. The performers know that everyone knows the Judy Garland version of Oz, so rather than pretend it never happened it's alluded too and crossed over and referenced until it's nearly taken into submission. It doesn't take long for you to put that 1939 version out of your head, to stop making comparisons and just enjoy this show.

And enjoyable it is. The film, while keeping the structure of the classic L. Frank Baum story, has been decidedly Muppet-ised. It's full of laugh-out-loud jokes, surreal throwaway gags, and moments of sentimentality that, for me at least, threw me back to my childhood and the TV show's great characters.

If this movie trips at all it's in its use of guest stars. The film stars Ashanti who has fun as Dorothy even though she seems at times like she isn't sure what to do with all of these creatures around her. It's almost as if the producers had the same feeling with Queen Latifah who portrays Aunt Em. While she holds her own, she never really gets a chance to shine. Unfortunately Quentin Tarantino gets a chance to shine a little too much. The director plays himself in a forced and overly long bit part. The best human performance comes from David Alan Grier who makes the most of his screen time as a harried Uncle Henry. Human celebrities appearing with the Muppets are what's expected, one just wishes that the producers had chosen celebrities right for the parts and not just taken those who were right for the ratings.

Overall this is a fun film with a lot of pure Muppet moments. I hope that it signals resurgence in this group as I think the world could use a little more of Kermit the Frog. The extras on the DVD include the now obligatory (when dealing with non-living actors) bloopers, a tour of the production and a Pepe/ Quentin Tarantino interview. Each is clever enough, but I really would have like to have seen more true behind-the-scenes footage on how the story was crafted for the Muppets and how each character was brought to life.
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