Saturday, May 21, 2005

We're Off to See the Wizard

ABC premiered The Muppets Wonderful Wizard of Oz last night. It's the first full-scale Muppet production since NBC's Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and the direct-to-video Kermit's Swamp Years, both of which came out in 2002. The new movie is certainly better than the latter, but differences in type make it hard to evaluate against the former. Their respective strengths and weaknesses more or less average them out.

The film's biggest weakness is its lead, Ashanti. She has a lovely voice, but she can't act her way out of a bucket (and I can usually ignore bad acting). Casting a singer would make sense if the film were music-heavy, but it's not. She sings a largely unnecessary song at the start, a completely unnecessary song at the end, and shares a decent group number in the middle. Unfortunately, where she's supposed to act in the interim, she founders.

Fortunately, the Muppets themselves were great. A lot of characters have had new actors take over the classic voices, and the novice ear probably wouldn't notice. Getting to see Scooter and Sam and Clifford in action again is a treat. I personally miss Rowlf, but I'm not sure where he would have fit in the script. Sure, Toto used to be a dog, but Pepe filled that role perfectly.

Jeffrey Tambor did a fine job as the Wizard, and I didn't mind his use of CGI. It's a natural evolution of the Wizard's showmanship. I do wish the script had made him something more than a bus driver, though. Would the modern version of a magician be an FX whiz?

Like VMMCM, the script relied on pop-culture references a bit too often. Manolos, J-Lo, cell phones, etc. Muppet humor should be a little more timeless. At least they weren't as blatant and drawn-out as VMMCM's in-script-promos for NBC shows Scrubs, Fear Factor, and Carson Daly's talk show.

I haven't seen this mentioned in any other review, but the change in Dorothy's motivation bothered me a little. When she finally returns home to Kansas, her immediate reaction is to leave home and pursue a career in Hollywood. Giving Dorothy the dream of fame and fortune is a bit of a change from the original story. It also irked me that when she got home, it was made abundantly clear that her home *had* flown off in the tornado, leaving no questions of whether Dorothy's experience was real or not. I miss that element of doubt.

Overall, it had its share of problems, but for its strengths I give it a B.


At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the Christmas season also: all i want for christmas is you mariah carey video , might as well get in the spirit early this year!


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