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Muppets from Space
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Tim Hill (director)
Genre:   Comedy
Released:   Original release date: July 14, 1999
Review Date:   August 22, 2002
Audience Rating:   Rated G
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Muppets from Space, the sixth movie to star Jim Henson’s cast of characters, centers, for the first time, not on Kermit and Piggy, but on that Blue Weirdo, Gonzo. Gonzo, species unknown, and previously classified as a Whatever, begins a quest to discover his origins.

I think it’s unlikely that the Muppets will ever surpass the successes that they had when Jim Henson was still with us, but its clear that his spirit, and creative spark, is alive and well in the group of talented performers Jim gathered together.

In the ranks of the newer Muppet movies, Muppets from Space comes in second place; better than the slightly drab Muppet Christmas Carol and not quite as good as Muppet Treasure Island, which wins extra points for Tim Curry’s villain and some great pirate songs.

Muppets from Space continues the Muppet tradition of star cameos. The cameos are a lot of fun (particularly Ray Liotta’s), and Josh Charles’ (Sports Night) scene with Piggy is classic, but the overall star power seems a little dim when compared to, say, The Muppet Movie (Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Mel Brooks, and Orson Welles).

It’s great to see some more of some of the characters from (the fairly recent and sadly short-lived) Muppets Tonight, like Clifford, Johnny Fiama and Sal Minella. Pepe the Prawn and Bobo the Bear (also Muppets Tonight refugees) keep up easily with veteran characters like Animal and Rizzo. Bill Baretta (the voice of Pepe and Bobo) is a top-notch second-generation Muppeteer. Since the deaths of Jim Henson (Kermit, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, the Swedish Chef) and Richard Hunt (Statler, Beaker, Janice, Scooter, and Sweetums), some of the Muppet characters have receded a bit into the background. And Bill Baretta’s characters prove that newer Muppets can be much more than pale replacements for the members of the old gang.

In a very noticeable departure from tradition, there are no original Muppet songs in Muppets from Space. The movie is instead set to a soundtrack of 70s funk, which, after you get over your disappointment of being deprived of a performance by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, is actually pretty groovy. I know that to a lot of people, a Muppet movie without the songs just isn’t a Muppet movie. On the bright side, though, that means that the obligatory ear-violating love anthem by Miss Piggy is also MIA.

I’m not sure, however, that Jim would have approved of Muppets from Space following the recent trend of rectal humor (Rizzo: "Before you answer, I’d be real clear on the final destination of that finger"). I’m all for "kids" movies that have humor aimed specifically at adults (see Shrek{LINK}), but if I want to hear puppets say crude things, I’ll rent Meet the Feebles.

If you’ve not seen any of the Muppet movies released after Henson’s death, you might think that the Muppets have sold out. That they’ve joined the ranks of the disposable kiddie-videos placed conveniently at the checkout counter so children can badger their parents into buying the latest mind-numbing piece of "family entertainment." Muppets from Space very occasionally hovers in that direction, but when you see Gonzo, bug-eyed and charbroiled, using a tractor-mower to write a message on the lawn, all to the beat of James Brown’s "Get Up Offa That Thing," you’ll know that the Muppets are alive and well, and as irrepressibly odd as ever.

 

The Not-So-Great Muppet DVD Caper

The concept for the DVD commentary track for Muppets from Space is promising: Gonzo the Great and Rizzo the Rat (along with director Tim Hill) provide the commentary. Instead of the having the people behind (or under) the felt and fur talking about their experiences, the DVD lets the Muppets speak for themselves. We see them watching the movie as backlit MST3K-style shapes. Rizzo and Gonzo ad-lib about the making of Muppets from Space, and there’s some good stuff (like when Gonzo notes that the umbrella he used in one scene required a 60-person off-camera team to operate). Unfortunately, this type of "Don’t let the kids know that the Muppets are only characters portrayed by performers" approach means that you get virtually no behind-the-scenes info.

What’s worse, the commentary quickly degrades into running gags that go something like "We actually filmed this space scene in outer space" or "This [element of the film that obviously required no special effects] was created digitally [and/or cost the prop department millions of dollars]." Gonzo and Rizzo are pretty clever (it’s clear that Tim Hill is used to being behind the camera, not in front of it), but someone should have taken the time to write at least a partial script. A DVD commentary with so little educational value ought to be more consistently entertaining.

The "outtakes" section is scant, and not particularly amusing. Which is surprising since the bloopers at the end of each Muppets Tonight episode were stunningly funny.

The "Shining Star" video is just clips from the movie set to music. Skip that and watch the trailers for The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and the Storyteller series.

DVD rating: 4/10


For his next death-defying feat, the Great RevSF Film/DVD editor Jason Myers will now be shot out of a cannon, through a cement wall, execute a triple somersault with a half twist, and land, nose first, in a Dixie cup of flaming lime Jello.

 
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