The Muppets Movie Collection

Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of Jim Henson's Muppets franchise, this box set collects a number of the popular poly-foam troupe's big-screen efforts. They first appeared on DC television show Sam and Friends in 1955. Henson's combination marionette-puppet creations would later populate television specials and the occasional episode of Saturday Night Live (not to mention Henson's own Sesame Street) before coming into their own with 1976's The Muppet Show. Concurrently, Henson and company branched out into movies and musicals featuring strong all-ages writing and masterful production design. Following Henson's death in 1990, these productions began a steady decline and the songs vanished. Traditional Muppet humour is part innuendo, part worn pun, and is only truly at play in the earliest title here, The Muppets Take Manhattan. Their third movie, it borrows its plotting from the traditional mores of Frank Capra: young idealists go to the big city to put on a musical show, become disillusioned in their failure, ultimately reuniting and triumphing following a mugging and a car accident. Muppets Take Manhattan is saccharine, but as their last real musical, the film maintains a genuine air of the fantastic in its romantic, vaudevillian character. Joan Rivers, Elliot Gould, Art Carney and Dabney Coleman participate in minor roles. The DVD includes a featurette and an interview with Henson, as well as a trailer gallery. 1999's Muppets from Space is Tim Hill's embarrassing "origin story" for seasoned character Gonzo, an unusual, long-nosed, blue-furred being. While the occasional joke may hit the mark, the film is populated with worthless cameos — a painfully unfunny Hulk Hogan makes now-dated remarks about the N.W.O. wrestling faction, while cinematic stooge David Arquette appears as a wily scientist. Other talents present — Ray Liotta, F. Murray Abraham, Rob Schneider — offer brief, tolerable comic moments. Lost by this point in the Muppet evolution are the colourful, touching songs that dominated previous efforts (most memorably Paul Williams's Oscar-nominated "The Rainbow Connection"). Taking their place are works by the Commodores, James Brown and the Isley Brothers, concluding with a tedious Alien Gonzo performance of Kool & the Gang's "Celebration." The DVD contains video commentary from the characters and Hill, an outtakes reel, talent files, previews, and a music video for the Dust Brothers' "Shining Star." Kermit's Swamp Years, a straight-to-video effort from 2002, continues this music trend with its use of Joe Tex's virulent, threatening "I Gotcha," a song re-popularised by Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. It concludes with a tiresome punk cover of Williams's aforementioned hit running under cutesy "outtakes." The film is an "origin story" for Muppet star Kermit the Frog, and features such characters as "Young Jim Henson." It is a disgusting attempt to cash in on a long-running franchise; it's boring, mindless and starless. As with the other titles, it is packed with in-character interviews and commentary. This repackaging of available titles may leave devoted fans asking, where is a reissue of A Muppet Family Christmas, or Jim Henson Productions' much-loved Dinosaurs? (Sony)