“The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” is such an inert misfire of a movie that one can make a strong argument of permanently retiring Jim Henson’s characters from future presentation. If this is the best that the post-Henson Muppet caretakers can offer, then it is time to stick Kermit and Co. in a trunk and ship them off to the Smithsonian for storage in a basement.
This time around, Dorothy is a waitress and aspiring singer working at Aunt Em’s diner. Dorothy is played by Ashanti, who looks great and sings okay but who cannot act for beans. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are played Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier, who literally act circles around poor Ashanti and spend their relatively brief screen time trying to out-ham each other.
Dorothy and her pet shrimp Toto (yes, a shrimp – with a Mexican accent!) get the twister treatment and land in a Munchkinland populated by rats wearing Laplander folk costumes. Since Ashanti’s Dorothy cannot tell a joke properly, Toto is given the wisecracks (at one point he turns to the camera and mentions that people should turn on “Dark Side of the Moon”).
The Muppets turn up in Oz-type characters. Kermit is the Scarecrow, and he first appears crucified to a cornfield pole. He makes a reference to “The Passion of the Christ,” which will probably horrify any humor-challenged fundamentalist who watches this flick. Gonzo is the Tin Thing (he’s not the Tin Man), and Fozzie Bear is the Cowardly Lion. Miss Piggy plays all of the witches (good, wicked and house-flattened).
Realizing there is barely enough humor to warrant a 100-minute movie, the producers bring in some guest stars. Alas, these folks are so sluggish that it appears they barely had time to yawn and stretch out of a nap before reciting their lines for the camera. Quentin Tarantino does a ghastly self-parody in an irrelevant cutaway sequence in which he tries to sell a movie to a business suit-clad Kermit. Kelly Osbourne pouts and sneers in a weird cameo in which the “Magical Makeover Machine” transforms Ashanti’s Dorothy into the Prince of Darkness’ daughter. And the Wizard is none other than Jeffrey Tambor – it is a lousy gag and Tambor can’t do anything to make it work.
The film tries too hard to be hip, with references to cell phones, satellite television and music video rap stars. There is even a billboard with Miss Piggy in an Angelyne-worthy pose, which amuse about a dozen Los Angeles perverts but will be lost on everyone else. But this only kills the charm of the Baum story, and the jokes are too stale to be effective as parody.
Fans of warped-Oz flicks should look out for “The Turkish Wizard of Oz” or even “The Brazilian Wizard of Oz.” The Muppet version is a disastrous failure.