The year was 1999. The world was on the cusp of a new millennium. The infamous Prince hit had resurfaced. Everyone was afraid that Y2K was going to transform the world into a scene from Mad Max. For our fine, felty friends, the Muppets, it meant a new movie was going to hit theaters. For many Muppet fans, however, the year 1999 meant disappointment.
Muppets from Space was not only the return of the Muppets to the big screen, but it was also the return of the classic Muppet film in which the Muppets played themselves instead of offering an interpretation of a classic work of literature.
The movie itself shows that the times were still a’changin’, not only historically and culturally, but for the Muppets, too. Stylistically, the movie struggles to change the Muppets into something more modern and 90s-ish instead of the timeless characters they had been. There is no larger than life opening musical number. The Muppets nod their heads and tap their feet to the funk classic “Brick House” that is serving as a booming soundtrack. At the end, however, the Muppets exclaim the final line just as if it was the end of a large musical number, which is a little bit confusing as none of them sang and the song was a tad low key.
The other Muppet films up to this point were musical comedies, but, save for “Celebration” (performed by alien Gonzos), there are no show stopping musical numbers this time out. The lack of spectacular production numbers and any new original music leaves a void. It is like a favorite dish that is missing that one spice which added just the right dash of flavor. Original music is how the Muppets always hooked you. It showed the heart of the characters and touched you. Without that touch, sincerity is missing. A remix of “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday,” from The Muppet Movie, was going to be included, but was later cut. While it still appears on the soundtrack, it could have added a touching authenticity to the film.
Once again, the shift has been made to focus on Gonzo (Dave Goelz). Although the Muppets all live together in one house, Gonzo is painfully reminded that he is the only one of his kind. Not only is he the only “weirdo” or “whatever” among his friends, he is the only one in the entire world. As this realization makes him feel alienated and depressed, he starts to get bizarre, mysterious communications from space asking, “Are you there?” As it turns out, Gonzo is not a “Weirdo” or “whatever” as he had been previously labeled. Instead, he is an alien and an entire space ship full of Gonzo look-a-like aliens want to welcome him back to their fold and take him home.
Of course, not everything is quite that simple. Appearing on a television show with accidental hostess Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), Gonzo exposes himself as an alien to a government agency and is held captive by K. Edgar Singer (Jeffrey Tambor). Luckily, Kermit (Steve Whitmire), Miss Piggy, and the whole Muppet gang rally their troops to save Gonzo before a mad scientist, Dr. Van Neuter (Brian Henson), can remove his alien brain. Gonzo, the Muppets, and tons of humans looking for something to believe in gather at a local beach, waiting for his alien family to appear.
This movie also marks the movie debut of several new characters to the Muppet line-up that were created for Muppets Tonight and would be added to the menagerie of main Muppets. Bobo Bear, Clifford, Johnny Fiama, and Pepe the King Prawn all enjoy substantial roles in the movie alongside classic characters such as Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, Swedish Chef, Rizzo, Dr. Benson Honeydew, and Beaker. Once again, Frank Oz only provided the voice for Miss Piggy while others performed the puppeteering. This will be the last film that Oz performs her in any capacity. Along with the inclusion of Muppet Tonight characters, Bill Barretta has joined the ranks of main Muppet performers, although he has been working with the Muppets since 1991. Rowlf the Dog appears briefly and his only audible line is an “aww,” but Scooter has returned for the first time since Richard Hunt’s death. This time, he is performed by Adam Hunt, Richard’s brother.
Revisiting the film 15 years after its initial release and seeing references to Dawson’s Creek and The Spice Girls makes this perhaps the most dated Muppet film. On the plus side, at least the cameos have returned. Ray Liotta, Kathy Griffin, David Arquette, Andie MacDowell, Rob Schneider, Hulk Hogan, Katie Holmes, and Joshua Jackson all make appearances.
Although this movie struggles, there are some great moments in which the Muppets shine through, making the rest of the movie worth it. Miss Piggy, who is famous for karate chopping (usually Kermit across the stage), has a wonderful Karate fight scene in which she explains that she is a “platinum belt with no credit limit!” Beaker and Dr. Honeydew have a great moment when they channel their inner Q and demonstrate how to use spy gadgets they have developed to help save Gonzo. The entire “bust Gonzo out of the evil government facility disguised as a cement factory” sequence is hilarious and entertaining. It starts with a gushing Ray Liotta who has fallen victim to spy spray courtesy of Miss Piggy and includes a romantic interlude between Animal and Kathy Griffin (!!!). The sequence is reminiscent of The Great Muppet Caper when Miss Piggy is in prison and must be rescued and channels the same brilliant comedic timing and gags.
I guess the Muppets are just really good at escapes!
Call it just a “miss” or just a series of missteps; although it channeled a likeness of the Muppets from yesteryear, it was not able to follow through. It tried to sneak in new characters without an introduction or explanation, lacked the delightful music the franchise is known for, and contained too many “potty jokes” in an attempt to earn a few chuckles. The memorable and “classic Muppet” scenes added life to the movie, but they were sparse.
I’m afraid this one only gets 2 out of 5 rubber chickens.