THE MUPPET MOVIE: Kermit's 50th Anniversary edition
Walt Disney Video, $19.99
THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL: Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition
WDV, $19.99It was many years after my first introduction to Jim Henson's Muppets that I finally clued into Henson and company's inherent subversion-by-comic proxy. Who else would have the temerity, or chance the sheer imaginative leap, to christen a rattus norvegicus puppet after Midnight Cowboy's consumptive pimp: Rizzo the Rat. Genius and nothing but. This quartet of theatrical releases from Jim Henson Studios is chock-full of nuts and gems like that, many of which will have gone unnoticed if the last time you watched the felt players spin their wonderful, all-too-humanistic magic was when your age mirrored your Stride-Rite size. Henson and longtime co-conspirator Frank Oz (later to cameo in An American Werewolf in London, of all things) hit their post-television stride immediately with The Muppet Movie; their perfectly dreamy ditty "The Rainbow Connection" is still sung and revered by everyone from your 3-year-old niece to punk rockers Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and the perpetual romance between Kermit and Miss Piggy still smacks of porcine 'n' green purity. Follow-ups The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island are only slightly less heavenly, trading some of the latent hippyisms for hipster in-jokes (admittedly not much of a stretch for a former TV show that once featured Alice Cooper, Orson Welles, and Vincent Price). Of these four releases, though, it's the ambitious Muppet Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, that really transcends the whole idea of puppetry and manages to add new, unforeseen layers to Dickens' classic, including perpetually aged hecklers Stadtler and Waldorf as Scrooge's late partners in parsimony, and Gonzo (the Great!) as no less than Dickens himself, helpfully explicating the meaning of big words like "omniscient" and generally keeping things moving at a painfully funny pace. All four DVDs arrive with minor bells and whistles, including a series of Muppet profiles by Pepe the Shrimp and some seriously warped (and real) gag reels that reveal the voice talent to be just as pleasantly daffy off-screen as on.