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Muppets from Space (1999)

25 September 2003 by Gnoll No Comment

MUPPETS FROM SPACE


1999, dir. Tim Hill
87 min. Rated G.
Starring: Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Jerry Nelson.

Review by Gnoll

I’ve decided to make it a point to wind up reviewing all of the Muppet theatrical feature films by the time it’s all said and done. At this time, there are a total of six that have been released. I have already written my take on THE MUPPET MOVIE and THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, but I have yet to cover classics like THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER, THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND. The most recent theatrical release from Jim Henson’s creations is MUPPETS FROM SPACE, a movie I should have reviewed four years ago.

Before I begin, let me go off on a side note about how much of a pain in the ass it is for me to type this review. Or, more correctly, a pain in the hands. I recently had my nice comfy full-sized Compaq keyboard at my office replaced with this tiny little ViewSonic model that’s about the size and depth of a laptop keyboard. The smaller size is only half the problem, though. It’s the little things that really get me: the placement of the right “shift” key, the placement of the arrow pad, the fact that “delete” is by the space bar…I’m having to hunt and peck like a grade schooler all of a sudden. It takes me way longer to type something because I’m all typo city. But enough whining, let’s get back to the movie.

MUPPETS FROM SPACE is vastly different from any of the other Muppet movies. Unlike the last couple, it’s not based on a classic piece of literature, but goes back to an original story like the first three. But most striking is that the story isn’t based around our usual trio of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear. This time around, the star is Gonzo, who learns that he is a stranded alien from an unknown world who has been stranded on Earth. In fact, Kermit’s pretty much an afterthought in this one when it comes down to it. He’s only there because, well, he’s Kermit, but any old Muppet could have filled his role.

Wow. I can’t believe how that reads. Any old Muppet could have filled his role. These felt-and-foam characters have become so real in the last quarter-century that it’s hard to believe sometimes that they’re puppets. Seeing Kermit the Frog up there acting so natural and articulate, it’s easy to forget that there’s a man’s hand stuck up his ass making him do all that. When you think about the amazing tricks they’ve pulled like having the frog ride a friggin’ bicycle in the original film, it’s easy to forget.

In MUPPETS FROM SPACE, there’s nothing quite as spectacular as the bicycle scene, but there’s plenty to remind you why everyone loves the Muppets. Okay, not everybody. There is one person in this world that hates the Muppets, and he happens to write for this site. Terry, you soulless bastard, one day you’re gonna get attacked by Sweetums when you’re least expecting it. But I digress. There is a grand and powerful opening scene, a dream sequence where Gonzo is scrambling to get aboard Noah’s Ark before the flood and discovers the agony of being the only one of his kind, but it’s not quite as powerful as The Rainbow Connection.

Gonzo discovers, by way of a possessed bit of alphabet cereal, that he must watch the sky. After a bolt of lightning hits him, he is transported to space, where two fish tell him of his origins. Of course, everyone thinks Gonzo’s crazy (duh, he comes from a puppeteer’s workshop, not space) so they have a few laughs at his expense. When Gonzo appears on a tabloid television show to out himself, Miss Piggy gets a bargaining chip while Gonzo gets hauled off to a secret government agency for research purposes.

The head of this secret Government agency is played by Jeffrey Tambor, who if you didn’t know better would think played Dr. Phil on that myrmidon-inspiring Oprah spinoff. The agency exists to seek out the bizarre, but it apparently slips under their radar that there’s a bear that talks, wears a suit, and drives a cement truck working amongst them. Tambor is a nice addition to a list of great actors playing Muppet villains, joining the ranks of Charles Durning, Michael Caine, and Tim Curry. Oh yeah, and Charles Grodin too. Gonzo’s pal Rizzo is relegated to lab rat status, having to endure all kinds of torture from Deputy Dewey. After having a conversation with a sandwich, Gonzo is strapped to a table and subjected to all kinds of weird tests being conducted to a possibly Andy-Dick-inspired gay muppet including one that will suck his brain out.

Of course, Muppet tomfoolery ensues. Kermit and the gang take on the task of rescuing their friend, and are met with a slew of obstacles. Of course, there’s the expected who’s who of celebrity cameos. This time around, we get F. Murray Abraham as Noah, Rob Schneider as a TV producer, Josh Charles as half of a poor man’s Men in Black, Ray Liotta as a charmed security guard, David Arquette as the crazy rat torturer, Andie McDowell as the host of the tabloid TV show, Kathy Griffin as an Animal-loving security guard, Pat Hingle as a general, and in an Oscar-worthy turn, Hollywood Hulk Hogan as the muscle for the Alien task force.

There’s plenty of humor that will appeal to adults as well as kids, making it fun for pretty much anyone. There’s pretty easy-to-spot references to STAR WARS and Star Trek, as expected, as well as some spot-on parodies of other films (including one from INDEPENDENCE DAY that had me rolling.) The soundtrack is full of fun 70’s funk, with staples by Earth, Wind, and Fire, James Brown, Kool and the Gang, and the Commodores, among others.

As I mentioned earlier, Gonzo is thrust into the lead of this one, while other familiar Muppets take a back seat. This has been the source of criticism for some, but I personally was glad to see it. I’ve always been a bit of a Gonzo fan, and while I love Kermit as much as the next guy, post-Henson Kermit just doesn’t have the same feel to him. Miss Piggy’s role is just prominent enough, Fozzie is there just enough to get his trademark goofy self in, and Animal gets his share of action as well. However, the best move they made here is allowing newer Muppet star Pepe the King Prawn step up and deliver some of the movie’s best moments. The fact that I’m saying this with a straight face speaks wonders.

MUPPETS FROM SPACE isn’t the best film from Jim Henson studios, but it’s still one that exemplifies just why the Muppets have endured as a property for all these years. It’s nowhere near the excellence of THE MUPPET MOVIE, but it’s miles ahead of THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN. For anyone even remotely keen on these felt wonders, it’s definitely worth checking out. Oh, and I definitely recommend picking up the DVD if at all possible, because there’s an outtake reel that proves my point on just how real these guys are.

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