A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 179 – Muppets’ Wizard of Oz

Muppets’ Wizard of Oz – August 26th, 2010

Tonight I was sort of in the mood for something I’ve seen before, but then I looked at the list and thought, well, I keep meaning to watch this. It’s a Muppet movie! It’s based on The Wizard of Oz! Both things I know, so yay! I do have to admit that while I have yet to find a Muppet movie I don’t at least like, some of the newer ones just aren’t the same sort of fun as the old ones. It’s tough for me to put my finger on it, but it’s probably easy to blame it on the absence of Jim Henson. He was the Muppets. It’s entirely possible to emulate his style, but impossible to be him. Still, that doesn’t mean the new stuff isn’t fun. It just isn’t ever going to be the old stuff. But that’s true of just about everything.

I would like to commend the folks who made this movie for at least one thing: The movie is based largely on the original novel, not on the 1939 classic movie. Sure, there are some nods to the movie, in particular I noticed that the lighting in Kansas at the beginning is done so that everything feels washed out and harsh, echoing the black and white of the original movie’s Kansas. It’s subtle, but I think it works. But mostly there’s a lot of book references. The munchkins all in blue, the green glasses in the Emerald City, a magic cap, silver shoes, etc. On one hand, it’s not going to be quite as well known now as the movie. On the other hand, that works for it in my opinion. Trying to spoof the movie could have gone badly, but spoofing the book means less comparison to a movie classic. It presents the story in a new way, with new details. It comes off as part spoof and part homage. And as a librarian, I do love when movies make nods to book details.

Of course, this is a Muppet movie, so the story is adjusted to fit in the characters we’re all expecting. There’s Piggy as all of the witches (sporting different hair styles and taste in clothing for each), Kermit as the Scarecrow, Gonzo as the Tin Man, Fozzie as the Cowardly Lion, the rats as the Munchkins, some of our favorite monsters as the flying monkeys, Statler and Waldorf as the Kalidah (right out of the book), and, my favorite, Pepe as Toto. A bunch of others make appearances too, like Clifford, the Electric Mayhem and Bunsen and Beaker, and I’ve got to say, none of them feel out of place to me. Let’s face it, in the first movie the Electric Mayhem are just hanging around in an old church when Kermit and Fozzie happen upon them. Being the band in a poppy-based nightclub (and having a nightclub with a poppy theme in the first place) isn’t so far fetched. I got precisely the amount of identifiable Muppets I was expecting in this movie, though I guess I’d have liked more crowd shots with random Muppets too.

Seeing as the movie has this whole re-imagining thing going on, the plot is a modern spin on the story. Dorothy lives in a trailer park in Kansas and works at her aunt and uncle’s diner. She wants to be a big star and, in a bit of Muppet meta that’s straight out of the rest of the movies, she wants to audition for the Muppets’ big tour. Her aunt tells her no, she sneaks out, ends up late and doesn’t make it to the auditions and then an argument with her aunt and forgetting her pet prawn (a real prawn, who magically turns into Pepe once in Oz) lead to Dorothy ending up in Oz. Once there, Dorothy decides that Kansas sucked anyhow and she’s glad to be out of there, so she’s going to go to meet the Wizard and get him to make her a star! That right there is the biggest shift. Never mind the modernization and the flying monkeys being a biker gang and cameos from Kelly Osborne and Quentin Tarantino. That’s all just details and dressing. Changing the essence of Dorothy’s character and quest is the Big Ass Deal here.

Given that the lead role is played by a singer, Ashanti, and given that apparently other young female singers auditioned for the role too, I have to assume that the whole “I want to be a star!” plot was nailed down right from the get-go. I get it. I do. The story was supposed to be current and capitalize on young talent. And it’s not like the Muppets haven’t ever capitalized on current talent, right? The Muppet Show, anyone? Take a look at the guest star list. Current talent was the name of the game, mixed in with some established hits. So we’ve also got Queen Latifah and David Allan Grier as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Now, I love Queen Latifah, but David Allan Grier will always remind me of Don “No Soul” Simmons. Sorry. But there’s Jeffrey Tambor too, and so we’ve got three established names to go with our young starlet. Ashanti’s not a great actress, but she’s not bad and there’s a certain style musicians who aren’t super seasoned actors tend to have with Muppets, so I expect it. And the only other one who has to act with the Muppets is Tambor, whom we already know is awesome with them.

Now, I won’t get down on the modern references. Napster was dated ages ago, and Manolos are so Sex in the City, the Osbornes aren’t the cultural touchstone they were when the show was new and edgy, though I will give them Quentin Tarantino. He’s got staying power. But as with the musicians-with-Muppets style, I expect current cultural references in my Muppet movies. I expect current names and jokes about fads. It’s part of the style of humor that’s always been there. I laughed at them because even though they are dated, I know exactly what the references mean. And I won’t criticize the Muppets. I think they were all performed wonderfully and I found myself laughing a heck of a lot more than I expected to. I will say a couple of the racier comments and moments seemed a little more Muppet Show than Sesame Street, and if the movie was aiming at family fare, they needed to be more in the middle of the two, but eh, no big. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

If I had to make one criticism it would be the Big Ass Deal. Changing Dorothy’s goal is modern all right, but it struck me as wrong somehow. It’s obviously hardwired into the movie, not tacked on, but it sat uncomfortably with me, for all that they obviously worked hard to shift things in just the right ways to make it work. Maybe it’s that the goal itself, as pointed out by Aunt Em at the beginning, isn’t terribly well thought out and definitely somewhat shallow. Maybe it’s that the movie tries to simultaneously knock down and hold up the “be a star” goal. After denouncing it as fake, and realizing she really just wants to go home, Dorothy ends up getting to be a star anyhow. That’s awkward and undermining of the “message” part of it all. Which is really a pity, because if they’d somehow managed to write the ending better, my only complaint would have been the horrifying CGI chicken woman.

August 26, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: