‘The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’ has its moments

[rating=3]Starring: Ashanti, Jeffrey Tambor, Quentin Tarantino, David Alan Grier, Queen Latifah, Kermit the Frog, Miss. Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great
Director(s): Kirk R. Thatcher
Writer(s): Teleplay by Debra Frank, Steve Hayes, Tom Martin, Adam F. Goldberg; Television Story by Debra Frank, Steve Hayes; Based upon the novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

Ashanti accompanies (l. to r.) Gonzo, Pepe, Kermit and Fozzy down the yellow-brick road in 'Muppets’ Wizard of Oz'
Ashanti accompanies (l. to r.) Gonzo, Pepe, Kermit and Fozzy down the yellow-brick road in ‘Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’

To be honest, it has been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed a Muppet movie. I briefly caught some bits and pieces of The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz when it aired on ABC, and can’t say that I was that impressed. But watching it in its entirety on DVD, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. There are some good scenes, with bits of clever humor throughout, but nothing even remotely comparing to the magic of the early Muppet movies.

What holds Oz down is its star, Ashanti. She has a lovely singing voice, but acting is clearly not her profession. Perhaps it was the fact that she was acting largely against puppets, but her awkward delivery really hinders the film. I understand why they wanted to cast a singer in the role, but they could have looked at someone with a little more acting experience (heck, Disney would probably have done better casting Raven Simone from their own series, That’s So Raven!).

That aside, the most important thing with a Muppet movie is the humor, and there are some pretty funny moments throughout Oz.

The story is pretty much the same as the classic tale, with some modern touches. Dorothy (Ashanti) is a waitress in Kansas working at her aunt and uncle’s diner. She longs to be a singer and escape her small time life to become a superstar. Her Aunt Em (Queen Latifah), however, is resistant to her leaving home. Dorothy tries to convince her aunt to let to attend an audition for Kermit and the Muppets, but she refuses. That doesn’t stop her uncle (David Alan Grier) from letting her go, but Dorothy doesn’t arrive in time. She gives Kermit a demo CD, and on her way home, a storm has started to form.

The storm grows violent and a tornado wisks her and her pet shrimp, Toto, off to Oz. Her trailer accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East, and armed with her magical shoes, Dorothy is off down the yellow brick road to find the Wizard of Oz, who’ll apparently help her become a star. Along the way she meets a Scarecrow (Kermit), a T.I.N. Man (Gonzo), and a Cowardly Lion (Fozzie). But the Wicked Witch of the West (Miss. Piggy) aims to stop Dorothy and obtain the magical shoes.

All the major story elements are the same as the classic film starring Judy Garland, just with slight twists. For example, Gonzo’s T.I.N. Man is actually a kind of robot connected to a computer system. Plus, the infamous flying monkeys enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the West are a motorcycle gang. The biggest twist is that Toto is a shrimp instead of a dog, a wise-cracking one with a Mexican accent. He actually provides some of the film’s best humor. For example, when the group first encounters the T.I.N. Man, Toto asks him what the nobs on his chest are for. “They’re my nipples,” he replies. Toto’s disgusted reaction is perfect.

There are a handful of similarly funny moments throughout. Ultimately, you can overlook Ashanti’s performance, as well as Quentin Tarantino’s of odd cameo. It’s not The Muppet Movie, or even The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, but Oz still remains a fun family film.

The extras on this DVD are funny, with a collection of hilarious outtakes, a behind the scenes documentary, and an interview with Tarantino, both of which are hosted by Pepe, the puppet who plays Toto.

Rated: TV-PG
Run Time: 2 hrs.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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