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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Muppet Movie, 50th Anniversary Edition

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#1 of 25 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted November 15 2005 - 05:07 PM

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The Muppet Movie

50th Anniversary Edition

Studio:Buena Vista (DVD Release)
RunTime:96 minutes
Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.85:1 (OAR) & 4x3 encoded 1.33:1 (P/S) on same disc
Audio:5.1 DD English, French
SpecialFeatures:Pepe Presents: Kermit Profile—A Frog’s Life
ReleaseDate:November 29, 2005


Both The Muppet Movie & The Great Muppet Caper are “sister” DVD releases in that they mirror one another on most technical points such as image quality, sound quality, bonus feature, and in how they each compare to their corresponding Columbia Tristar DVD editions. For this reason, there’s much redundancy between my reviews of these two titles, so bear that in mind and don’t think that I just got lazy when, upon reading, you say to yourself, “Hey, this sounds almost the same as that other Muppet DVD review…”. The Great Muppet Caper review can be found here:


The Muppet Movie...

“Millions of people happy”

That’s what Jim Henson, through Kermit, set out to do.

I was privileged to view The Muppet Movie in a movie-house during its original theatrical run. As a young child I remember the audience filled with adults, laughing uproariously scene after scene while Henson’s satire delivered parodies of familiar movie-formulas with irreverent skill. While many of the jokes may seem a bit tame, or even a bit dry, to modern viewers, it’s important to keep in mind that movies like The Muppet Movie were the first films to play with these kinds of jokes so shamelessly…these jokes weren’t cliché when audiences were smitten with the giggles in 1979.

For those of you from a younger generation who find it difficult to view the Muppet Movie from the perspective of its historical context, realize that The Muppet Movie was the “Shrek” of its day—a family safe movie that kids could watch but parents could enjoy on a more adult level as the movie poked fun at the plot-gimmicks that many other films take seriously.

The Muppets did satire. The Muppets made fun of themselves. They played off of shameless gags. They gave famous actors cheesy 2-second cameos. They talked to the camera. They made millions of people happy.


I’m sure that those of you with the Columbia Tristar DVD editions of The Muppet Movie (and Muppet Caper) are really hopeful that the new Disney DVD edition might improve the inconsistent, and generally poor image quality of the previous disc. I’ve done some careful A/B comparing back and forth between the two versions and I think I’ve got a good handle on what’s different and what’s the same.

Drum roll…

The image is a little better.

Columbia Tristar DVD Comparison:

It appears to my eyes that this DVD is sourced from the EXACT same print as the previous edition…I’d go so far as to say the exact-same film-tape transfer. In My opinion, the subtle (but appreciable) improvement I see follows the “My Fair Lady” methodology: a new DVD edition that does a better job with compression making a less digital, more analog looking result from the same film-tape transfer.

Colors look identical. Black-level, contrast, and film-grain are exactly the same…scenes that were clean in the previous DVD are clean on this edition, and scenes that were grainy in the previous edition are grainy here. The difference is where the older DVD looked “noisy” in an electronic, digital-sort-of-way, the new disc looks “grainy” more like a film. Fine object detail is also marginally improved, which impresses me.

I suspect that viewers with displays 27 inches or less, or those viewing from greater than 2 screen-widths, might not find the improvement in the image of the new disc noticeable; Those with large-screen displays or those viewing from closer than 1.75 screen widths might appreciate the subtle, but meaningful, improvement in digital mastering.

Image Description:

I had been hoping that Disney might uncover a better print of The Muppet Movie to source a new film-tape-transfer. I’m disappointed that no better print could be found (I’m assuming) as the elements for this transfer (just like the previous DVD) are inconsistent, and while some scenes are clean and natural, others look excessively grainy in a way that doesn’t seem to serve any artistic desire on the part of the director. Contrast is a bit flat, and the image rarely dips into deep blacks or vivid brights…lacking in strong dynamic range. Again, let me repeat that this is the nature of the film source and not the fault of poor digital mastering (which is handled quite well). Image detail isn’t Fifth-Element sharp, but it’s marginally more detailed than the previous disc and the image has a generally natural, film-like presence that’s refreshing to view. Colors are properly saturated and satisfyingly bold when appropriate. And allow me to praise Buena Vista regarding the lack of any distracting edge-ringing from over-applied EE.

Image Quality Summary:

Ok…so looks to my eyes that it’s got the same “film problems” of the original DVD, minus the “digital problems”. That makes this disc more comfortable on the eyes on my 106” screen, but how significant the improvement is in your own viewing environment may vary. I’d use the “My Fair Lady” DVD editions to be your guide…if you found that the newer DVD edition of that title brought an improvement in image quality to your system, then you’ll probably find a similar increase in image quality with Disney’s edition of The Muppet Movie.

Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5

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Rating Rationale...

In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):

Rating Key:

SCORE Description
1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.
2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.
3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.
4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.

Viewing Equipment:
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.


Yes, it’s better than the audio on the Columbia Tristar DVD…but not by much. It sounds like the same mix, sourced from the same elements, but with more top-end preserved giving a more open (and slightly brighter) sound. This is welcome as the audio on the Columbia DVD was dull and lifeless…sounding almost muffled as if the top end had been filtered off in some misguided attempt at noise-reduction to reduce hiss. Curiously, I notice no distracting hiss in the audio on the new disc and, while not producing miracles, the increase in frequency response on the new disc does make the audio much more listenable.

The audio, just like with The Great Muppet Caper, does not seem to have been “remixed” in any way from any source stems. Whether discrete music/dialogue/effects elements still exist I don’t know, but in any case they weren’t used here…the composite mix of the print/previous DVD edition has simply been presented with less high-frequency filtering so it sounds a little better than it did on the Columbia disc.

As with the video, the limiting factor with the audio is the source material…this DVD seems to “let the audio through” to its best potential outside of a complete remixing from discrete stems. For those of you who don’t already own the Columbia DVD, the general character of the sound is “fat mono” despite the 5.1 encoding flag lighting up the LED display on your receiver. Audio dynamic range is compressed. Bass response is more or less nil. Let’s face it, this movie was mixed/mastered for 1970’s theaters and it sounds like it. While I will continue to harbor the dream that some day this movie will appear on a home-video format with the musical numbers remixed from the stereo master used for the LP soundtrack, rest assured that this DVD isn’t making the audio sound any worse than it did when it rumbled through theaters in 1979…

Sound Quality: 3.5 / 5

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Special Features...

Let me rephrase: Special Feature.

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Ok, get used to this “special feature” because you’ll see it on all four of the Muppet DVD releases (Only Muppet Christmas Carol offers more). We get a “Pepe Profile” which, in the case of the Muppet Movie, profiles Kermit. It’s cute. It’s about 5 minutes long. It’s all you get. I don't think I'd be alone in saying that given the "50th Anniversary" status of this edition it would have been nice to have had a few more legitimate bonus features on this disc. A nice making-of documentary? A history of Kermit featurette?

[b]All Together...

Disney has brought to DVD what looks to my eyes to be a superior digital mastering of the same print/film-tape transfer used for Columbia’s previous DVD edition. While the same film-print related anomalies remain (such as inconsistent film grain), the layer of digital haze that obscured low-level picture detail in the previous DVD has been removed in this Disney DVD, which may improve the viewing experience for big-screen/wide-angle viewers (it did for me). The audio mix still suffers from “seventies-itis” and sounds dated, with limited fidelity as a result. However, Disney’s presentation includes a brighter, more open-top end which goes a long way to making the mix, which sounded dull and lifeless on the Columbia DVD, come alive with more detail and presence on this 50th Anniversary edition. Extras, I mean the extra, is slim. The lack of bonus material and subtle improvement in AV quality make this a tough recommendation for those of you who already own the Columbia DVD. Let me be so bold as to suggest that this Disney DVD edition is recommended to anyone who:

[b]A. Doesn’t already have the Columbia DVD
[b]B. Finds themselves annoyed by the overly-dull audio on Columbia DVD and/or was satisfied that the newer My Fair Lady DVD brought an improvement in AV quality that would have made that particular upgrade worthwhile.

The Muppet movie is creative. The Muppet Movie is fun. It’s movie magic. It made millions of people happy.

[b]RECOMMENDED for first-time Purchase

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#2 of 25 OFFLINE   Mark Lucas

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Posted November 15 2005 - 06:13 PM

I guess we'll never get a true SE of this so I guess this release will do... for now. The 50th Anniversary of what though?

#3 of 25 OFFLINE   MattHR



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Posted November 15 2005 - 06:19 PM

The complete article is at: http://www.museum.tv....muppetshow.htm

#4 of 25 OFFLINE   CameronMcC


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Posted November 15 2005 - 06:49 PM

bemmer that the treasure island and xmas carol lose the commentary...Widescreen print is always more important, but its a shame we can't get both.

#5 of 25 OFFLINE   BarryS


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Posted November 15 2005 - 07:06 PM

Hmmmm... This is rather disappointing. I expected something in the way of extras. However, I've never owned The Muppet Movie in any format, so provided the disc is cheap (less than $15 retail) I will definitely pick it up. The lack of extras really makes me sad though. Question: I read in Leonard Maltin's movie review guide that The Muppet Movie was cut by several minutes after its 1979 premiere. The guide lists the running time as 94 minutes, cut from the original 97 minutes. David's review says 96 minutes. Is it safe to assume that those few minutes were restored to the film at some point in the past?

#6 of 25 OFFLINE   MatthewA


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Posted November 16 2005 - 12:33 AM

I already own the Columbia DVD and I don't see enough of an improvement to justify buying this. Forget it, Disney. Without a full-fledged restoration of the film, why bother?

Enough is enough, Disney. No more evasions or excuses. We DEMAND the release Song of the South on Blu-ray along with the uncut version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks on Blu-ray. I am going to boycott The Walt Disney Company until then. And while you're at it, PLEASE stop dropping DVD/laserdisc extras from Blu-ray releases of other films.

#7 of 25 OFFLINE   MarcoBiscotti



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Posted November 16 2005 - 01:05 AM

I was skeptical of the direction Disney was taking these films/franchise since day one. I guess it was justifiable, because this new 50th Anniversary Edition sounds like crap. I might give them a rental to see if the a/v is noticeably improved on my HT setup, but on principle alone I'm pretty set on sticking with my current Columbia Tristar discs. At least these older releases offered some worthwhile extras for very worthwhile productions. Consider me dissapointed, but not all that surprised.

#8 of 25 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted November 16 2005 - 01:13 AM

Sounds like I'll keep my current version. Oh well, I don't watch this very often anyway.

#9 of 25 OFFLINE   Todd Hostettler

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Posted November 16 2005 - 02:23 AM

This is really, really disappointing news.

This movie deserves much more respect than its getting.Posted Image

#10 of 25 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted November 16 2005 - 02:31 AM

Commentary still on Christmas Carol, but not Treasure Island (forthcoming review)...
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#11 of 25 OFFLINE   Paul Arnette

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Posted November 16 2005 - 04:21 AM

This is a bit of a disappointment. I think eventually I will upgrade, but I am certainly in no hurry to do so now. I guess I will wait until a certain e-tailer sells the disc at 80% of its normal price before I do so. Posted Image

In fact, I have a feeling that this will probably be the case for The Great Muppet Caper as well, where I might spring for The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island earlier.
Universal Blu-ray Discs I will not be buying while they're offered only as Blu-ray + DVD 'flipper' discs:

The Jackal
, Out of Africa, and Traffic.

#12 of 25 OFFLINE   Colby


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Posted November 16 2005 - 08:10 AM

Well, if the Great Muppet Caper is about the same as this, it looks like I'll only be picking up the latter two films. Thanks for the review. I look forward to the others.

#13 of 25 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted November 16 2005 - 08:17 AM

David, Since you have both versions to compare... One of my major annoyances with the previous release was that the foreign language 2-channel tracks seemed to have better musical fidelity than the English 5.1 track. Has the 5.1 track been improved to the point that it at least sounds better than the 2.0 foreign language dubs? If it hasn't, it's possible that they don't have isolated English dialog tracks with which to do a real remix. Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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#14 of 25 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted November 16 2005 - 09:27 AM


I'll try to do some more A/B...but the only alternate language on the new discs is French.

I will emphasize that the English 5.1 audio mixes on the new disc sound like the are sourced from the exact-same source...or at least mix...as the Columbia disc...just with a little more top-end left in tact (which I'm assuming got filtered out on the Columbia discs due to poor AC-3 encoding or overly-aggressive noise-reduction). So if there were isolated stems of music/effect/dialogue, they were not used for this new edition since no "remix" has taken place.

Ugh...I'm supposed to go out to happy hour tonight after work but what I really want to do is go straight home and write some more muppet reviews... ;-)

Of course, I'll be taking a break at 9pm to watch LOST... Posted Image


Caper follows the same pattern as the Muppet Movie...you can almost literally just replace "The Muppet Movie" with "The Great Muppet Caper" in the review and you'd have it. Christmas Carol and Treasure Island is a different story--beautiful new film-tape transfers from pristine prints that are stunningly film-like, natural, and gorgeous to look at. Posted Image Reviews soon!
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#15 of 25 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted November 16 2005 - 10:52 AM

Another title that I will now officially wait until HD to upgrade. Posted Image

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#16 of 25 OFFLINE   Mark Lucas

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Posted November 16 2005 - 11:04 AM

I think you're right.

#17 of 25 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted November 16 2005 - 07:58 PM

I sort of expected Disney to do better with this DVD and preordered it despite the fact I owned the Columbia release. Very sad news to learn I just wasted my money.


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#18 of 25 OFFLINE   Mark Bendiksen

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Posted November 17 2005 - 12:41 AM

Yeah, I already EBayed my old DVD months ago in preparation for this release, so I have no choice but to buy. Too bad that they could not take the time and money needed to produce a better transfer of this wonderful film.

#19 of 25 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted November 17 2005 - 02:02 AM

Mark, as long as you're not ultimately spending too much more to transition to the new disc, there *is* a slight improvement in picture and sound that might make the ebay hassle worth-your-while. Caper review coming shortly...and just to make clear, it follows the same pattern of DVD mastering/presentation as The Muppet Movie. So those of you who don't already own the title may want to pick it up, or those of you with projection gear who want the subtle improvement in picture or the slightly more open sound...but sadly that's the best I can offer as far as justifying an "upgrade". I really hope that one day we get these titles on Blu-ray mastered from a new HD transfer from superior elements. Now...Christmas Carol and Treasure Island are a whole different story: GORGEOUS.
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#20 of 25 OFFLINE   Mike_Richardson


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Posted November 17 2005 - 02:53 AM

Don't forget that there were lengthy camera test extracts on Sony's MUPPET MOVIE DVD -- that ran nearly half an hour!

Looks like Disney dropped the ball there, too...eliminating the one major supplement from that older DVD! Posted Image

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