Muppets From Space (1999)
Directed by Tim Hill
Cast: Gonzo the Great, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Rizzo the Rat, Fozzie Bear, Jeffrey Tambor, Andie MacDowell, Ray Liotta, Rob Schneider, Kathy Griffin, F. Murray Abraham, Hollywood Hulk Hogan, David Arquette, Josh Charles. Unbilled: Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson.
1999 87 minutes
Rated: (no objectionable material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 15, 1999.
In their sixth feature film (beginning with 1979's "The Muppet Movie"), Gonzo the Great, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the rest of the gang have returned for "Muppets From Space." What hasn't returned to the series, unfortunately, like 1996's haphazard "Muppet Treasure Island," is a screenplay with any palpable charm or memorable moments. Written by Jerry Juhl and Joseph Mazzarino, the muppets have been transformed into some fairly uninteresting creations, an adjective I never thought I'd use when describing these particular cast of characters.
At the start of "Muppets From Space," we find the whole gang living together in a cozy-looking suburban home that has decidedly reached its breaking point (and horror of all horrors, it contains only one bathroom!). After having a dream in which Noah (F. Murray Abraham) would not let him into his ark because he wasn't sure what species he was, Gonzo the Great solemnly awakes, pondering his place on earth. As he looks at all of the pictures on the mantle of his roommates' families, Gonzo realizes that he has never seen anyone else like himself. Kermit's a frog, Miss Piggy's...well, a pig, Fozzie is a bear, Rizzo is a rat, but what exactly is Gonzo? After receiving messages via his alphabet cereal that ask, "R U THERE," Gonzo finally comes into contact, briefly, with a UFO and realizes that he is an alien from outer space. When an oily government agent (Jeffrey Tambor) catches wind of this, he kidnaps Gonzo in order to experiment on him, and it is up to the rest of the muppets to save him.
Since the last three "Muppet" pictures, a question has been swirling around in my head: Kermit and Miss Piggy are supposed to be the star attractions, and yet they are constantly being given disappointingly secondary roles. Not only do Kermit and Miss Piggy have a nice rapport with each other, but it is truly unlike Miss Piggy to step aside for someone else to come into the spotlight. These observations are only further supported by "Muppets From Space," in which Miss Piggy, now an assistant on a UFO-tabloid news show, is at her radiant best. Spright, fun, energetic, given the best lines and the most humorous physical comedy, Miss Piggy is a true star who doesn't deserve to be thrown to the wayside. Tellingly, most of the time she was off the screen, the film would halt to an abrupt stop until she reappeared.
One of the potentially good ideas that screenwriters Juhl and Mazzarino have are to finally place the muppets in today's time with many hip, cultural references. The problem is they don't go far enough, and very few of these pop-culture jokes are wasted opportunities, including The Mice Girls (a take-off on The Spice Girls) and brief cameos by Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes, playing their "Dawson's Creek" characters. Further adding to the confusion of this idea is the line-up of '70s funk songs, including "Brick House" and "Celebration." Since this particular Muppet chapter is set in the present day, why does everyone sing like they are ready to step onto the disco floor? Come to think of it, a much-needed muppet rejuvenation may have come if the film had been set during the Disco Era; just think of all of the fresh ideas that might have come out with this simple time period change.
After a successful opening, in which many of the jokes were surprisingly amusing, the comedy evaporated before my eyes (except when Miss Piggy's shenanigans arose), and so did the energy. Most of the jokes are terribly lame, even for a children's film, and the 87-minute running time overstays its welcome by at least ten minutes. Let me make things clear: I still like the muppets, and their live-action movies that come out every couple years, but an increase in quality is in serious need. Gonzo the Great is a cute character, and so is Rizzo the Rat, but when the muppet pictures begin to revolve around them, forgetting about the other more distinguished characters and not giving anyone else enough time to develop their personalities, there's a highly noticable problem.
©1999 by Dustin Putman