"The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" disappoints Jim Hill talks about how last Friday's TV movie totally missed the mark. Instead of being the comeback vehicle that Kermit & Co. so desperately needed, the "Muppets' Wizard of Oz" was actually a huge setback for this once-popular collection of characters. by Jim Hill One of my favorite Bloom County cartoons has Opus reviewing a particularly horrible movie. Seated at his typewriter, the prissy little penguin hammers out: "George Phblat's new film, 'Benji Saves the Universe,' has brought the word 'BAD' to new levels of badness. Bad acting. Bad effects. Bad everything. This film just oozed rottenness from every bad scene...Simply bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness." Opus pauses for a moment to reconsider what he's written, then types: "Well, maybe not that bad. But Lord, it wasn't good." And that -- my friends -- pretty much sums up how I feel about "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz." This two hour episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" may not have been the worst thing that I've ever seen on television. But Lord, it wasn't good. Where to begin? I mean, before I begin trashing the thing, I guess I should make an effort to say something nice about the newest movie version of this L. Frank Baum book. Soooo ... Er ... Um ... Well, I guess I can say that I admired how the filmmakers at least made an attempt to have the storyline of "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" hew a whole lot closer to the original L. Frank novel. By that I mean: They incorporated genuine Baum touches like Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow all seeing different versions of the Wizard whenever they entered his throne room. Or how about how the Wizard -- in order to finally give the Scarecrow the brains that he so desperately craved -- just poured in a box of bran straight into this character's head. Again, that's another idea that was lifted straight out of L. Frank's book. To be honest, "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" did have an awful lot of little moments like that. Things like the Wicked Witch's all seeing eye. Or the hat that controlled the Flying Monkeys. Or all the other creatures (I.E. The wolves, the crows, the bees, etc.) that the evil Piggy wanted to send into battle against Dorothy (But who were all unavailable due to the fact that they were taking a personal day or it was a religious holiday, etc). Those were all direct lifts for the original "Wizard of Oz" novel. And as for the look of the characters ... Fozzie made a pretty good looking Cowardly Lion and Gonzo a very impressive Tin ... thing. Sadly, Kermit was just a so-so looking scarecrow, while Miss Piggy ... I don't know if it was because she actually wound up playing five different roles in this picture (I.E. Herself as well as all four witches of Oz). But Piggy didn't really make that much of an impression in this movie. As for the show's scenic design ... Well, the Munchkin village looked cute. And there were a few long distance shots of the Emerald City and the Wicked Witch of the West's castle that were rather impressive ... But -- beyond that, folks -- "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" was a botch. A complete and utter botch. As a viewer, you just sat there -- hoping against hope that this TV movie would eventually get better. That it somehow engage or entertain you, or at least emotionally involve you. But alas it never did. But you wanna know the worst thing about "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz"? This was the first full-length project starring Miss Piggy & pals to be produced since the characters were acquired by the Walt Disney Company. Which meant that -- while this TV movie was in pre-production -- the Muppets had (in theory) the full might of the Mouse's creative team behind them. Well, if that were the case (And that the Disney Corporation really does want to turn Kermit & Co. into the company's next Winnie the Pooh. As in: A set of evergreen characters that will make plenty of green for Mickey over the next 40-50 years), then why was the script for "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" so awful? So completely lacking in humor & heart? And why wasn't there at least one song from the "Muppets' Wizard of Oz" score that you could remember two seconds after it was sung? I mean, this was the project that was supposed to relaunch the Muppets. The TV movie that was going to remind the world that Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo et al were really something special. That it was a good thing that these characters were now making a comeback. Well, instead of a comeback, what Disney got instead was a setback. A TV movie that finished third in the ratings. A project that actually reinforced the idea that the Muppets are all washed up. That Kermit & Co. are yesterday's news. And you know really kills me? The people who actually know how to make a decent Muppet movie -- I.E. writer Jerry Juhl & singer/songwriter Paul Williams -- they're still out there. Ready & willing & able to come back to work. But no one at Disney ever thought to pick up a phone and give Jerry & Paul a call. They were too concerned with trying to make Miss Piggy & pals seem "hip," current, with it. Part of today's culture. Which is why they loaded up the script for "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" with napster jokes and "Girls Gone Wild" reference. Now some Muppet fans will tell you that they smiled when Kermit asked the Wizard of Oz: "You aren't -- by chance -- related to Frank Oz, are you?" But that reference just made me sad. Why For? Because Frank Oz is another guy who actually understands what the Muppets are really about. But nobody at Disney ever thought to ask Oz for his input on the "Oz" project. Or at the very least come have Frank take a look at the script and then listen to his suggestions. As for the whole Ashanti thing ... I'm not going to get into that. Other than to say that this poor R&B artist was woefully miscast in the part of Dorothy. But -- to be honest -- there wasn't a single human performer in "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (Not Ashanti. Not Queen Latifah. Not David Alan Grier, Jeffrey Tambor or Quentin Tarantino) who came off looking particularly good in this production. But I don't care about those people. What I really care about is the Muppets and how their comeback vehicle wound up going so far off track. On the heels of this botched TV movie, Chris Curtin and the rest of the crew at the Muppets Holding Company LLC (I.E. The arm of the Walt Disney Company that actually controls what's done day-to-day with these characters) are going to have to work that much harder to bring the Muppets back into the mainstream. To make people believe that these characters are once again viable and considered entertaining by today's audiences. And it really didn't have to be that way, folks. "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" could have been a truly magical film. The source material was there with the original L. Frank Baum book. And the Muppets are a strong group of characters that many people still have a genuine affection for. If the right team had shepherded this project through the creative process, Disney could have wound up with something truly special. But instead we wound up with that disappointment that aired on ABC this past Friday night. Which -- as Opus so eloquently put it at the very start of this article -- "... wasn't good." Memo to the Folks who are running the Muppets Holding Company: Stop worrying about how to sell mounds of Muppets plush, DVDs & t-shirts. Instead, start concentrating on what is truly important. Which is figuring out how the Walt Disney Company can start telling entertaining stories with Kermit & Co. again.