MUPPETS FROM SPACE, 1999
Cast: Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Jerry Nelson, Brian Henson, Kevin Clash, Frank Oz, Jeffrey Tambor, F. Murray Abraham, Rob Schneider, Josh Charles, Ray Liotta, David Arquette, Andie MacDowell, Kathy Griffin, Hulk Hogan
Gonzo frantically begins searching for clues to his identity. The answers he finds are out of this world.
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Nothing spells out the end of franchise like the words “IN SPACE” tacked on to the title. Fortunately for the Muppets, they are the clever exception to the rule. This movie does not force Kermit and gang into outer space in a situation that would almost scream direct-to-video. Instead what transpires is something that fits nice and neat into the world created by Jim Henson. Not only does is stay faithful to the Muppet lore of past, but also finally answers one lingering question: what exactly is Gonzo?
The concept of this movie is setup right from the start. Gonzo is left behind by Noah, of Ark fame, because not only is there only one of him (everyone knows you needed a plus one to make that boat trip) he also has no idea what a Gonzo is. However, Noah, being the nice guy that he is, does provide Gonzo with an umbrella just as the flood starts. This is all a dream, of course, but it lends itself to what this movie is really about. Gonzo is alone in the world and it has finally caught up to him.
So, what is this movie about? Well, this is a Gonzo-centric movie. While he is often used solely for comic relief, this film provides us with a whole new level of depth. He is still his charming funny self, but this time we get to glimpse beyond the jokes and into his heart and mind. He is alone. He is sad. Everyone else around him has family and other members of their animal species to provide them company. His closest thing to a family is his roommate Rizzo, a rat. He desperately wants to find meaning with his life. He wants to know who, and what, he is. Answers, it seems, can arrive in the most unlikely of places.
While eating his cereal one morning, Alpha-bits by the looks of it, a message mysteriously present itself to Gonzo. Someone, or something, has been looking for him. They have searched the entire globe, leaving messages across the world in hopes that Gonzo would one day stumble across them. These messages, while missed by Gonzo, did not go unnoticed. A secret alien task force, led by Jeffrey Tambor (from “Arrested Development”) has been intercepting these messages for years, and before Gonzo can realize the truth, he is kidnapped by them and brought in for questioning and experimentation. Now it’s up to Kermit and the gang to rescue Gonzo before he becomes a lab experiment, and to find out the truth behind these apparent communications.
While this is a great Muppet film overall, some of the best scenes in this movie take place in the first five minutes. Here we have all the Muppets living at home together. They wait in line for the bathroom, they eat breakfast around the table, and they each have jobs that they perform around the house. Of course, all of this is done with the Muppets, so nothing is as cut and dry as it seems.
Watching them at home and performing their daily routines will really make you appreciate the calmness of your own house, relatively speaking of course. Kermit is the obvious patriarch of the “family,” being the voice of reason and sympathy when one is needed. And if Kermit is the father, the rest of the house is filled with rowdy cousins, nieces and nephews. If the rest of this film took place in their house, I would be satisfied with just watching their shenanigans. But this is not Muppets at Home, it’s “Muppets from Space.”
Where this movie succeeds tremendously is in character; all the Muppets are at their best. My favorite is the introduction of a new character, Pepe the king Prawn. He is easily the funniest thing in this movie. Trust me when I say that once you see him in action, it is easy to understand why his character is considered an instant classic. Unfortunately, for every great new character, there is also a bland celebrity cameo to counterbalance it. Hulk Hogan is just bad, and Ray Liotta is tolerable, but nothing says DATED like Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes performing a “Dawson’s Creek” cameo. I love the Muppets, and I know celebrity cameos are a staple of their films, but sometimes I wish they would make the cameos more relevant. They often seem like a throw away gag used in order to fill time.
Cameos aside, this movie is a whole lot of fun. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to know what Gonzo is? While the story does not have the depth of other Muppet movies, the emotional punch this films presents is a strong one. This is a tale with a lot of heart. This movie is about Gonzo searching for his family and discovering what that word truly means. Family is not only your relatives. They are the ones you hold close to your heart. They are the ones saying they believe you when you claim aliens have been communicating with you through your cereal. This is a great message for kids, and a great reminder for adults. It stands tall with the Muppet films of old while providing something relevant for a new generation of followers. Do yourself a favor, pickup this movie and watch it with your ”family.”