Even before Kill Bill director Quentin Tarantino's out-of-left-field cameo—feverishly pitching an ultraviolent idea to a studio exec played by Kermit the Frog—I was concerned that this lively Muppet movie might be a tad too hip.
Showbiz jokes are a Muppet staple, but they seem to come especially thick and fast in the beloved puppets' first venture under the Wonderful World of Disney banner. This Wizard of Oz still concerns a lonely Kansas girl named Dorothy, but now she's a wannabe singing idol (R&B star Ashanti) stuck working in a diner owned by her Auntie Em (Queen Latifah) and Uncle Henry (David Alan Grier). After Dorothy misses a chance to audition for a talent contest sponsored by the Muppets, a tornado blows her and pet Toto (not a doggie but Muppet character Pepe the prawn) into Oz, where she teams with the Scarecrow (the always endearing Kermit), the Cowardly Lion (Fozzie Bear) and the Tin Thing (Gonzo as a lovelorn robot). Though she's okay when performing three original songs, Ashanti is easily outshone by Miss Piggy (playing four—count 'em—witches) in the acting department.
The referential humor—J.Lo's marriages, Manolo Blahnik shoes—should tickle older viewers, and Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor is funny as the Wizard, unmasked as a former Hollywood tour guide. Trouble is, the strong emphasis on spoofy comedy leaves the film, like the Tin Thing, in need of heart.