Wednesday, July 14, 1999

Muppets From Space

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 1999 at 12:00 AM

Gonzo is in the midst of an identity crisis. Unlike the majority of Jim Henson’s Muppets, who resemble real animals or exaggerated humans, the oddball Gonzo is in a category by himself. Therein lies the problem.

The latest Muppet movie opens with Gonzo’s vivid nightmare of making it to Noah’s ark just before the flood, but being refused admission because there’s only one of him. So where does Gonzo come from? Outer space, it turns out, a situation which allows screenwriters Jerry Juhl, Joseph Mazzarino and Ken Kaufman to spoof the sci-fi genre, particularly the fascination with alien contact à la "The X-Files."

After he appears on the talk show, "UFOMania," Gonzo becomes the obsession of a sinister bureaucrat (Jeffrey Tambor) who kidnaps him just as the newly recognized alien has made contact with his distant relatives. Can the other Muppets save him, armed with just their wits and bizarre gadgets that would make James Bond green with envy? But of course.

The best thing about Muppets from Space is that, despite the outlandish story, it remains firmly earthbound. Director Tim Hill draws the film’s buoyant humor from the idiosyncrasies of characters like the sweetly eccentric Gonzo, self-absorbed narcissist Miss Piggy, wisecracking Rizzo the Rat and prankster Pepe the Prawn. Overseeing the menagerie is the unflappable Kermit the Frog, whose cool reason is repeatedly undone by the sheer ferocity of Animal or the inept bumbling of Fozzie Bear.

Director Hill choreographs several impressive set pieces, including the morning rituals at Muppet central, a rambling architectural mishmash of a house which ideally suits its oddball inhabitants. The music underscoring the scene is the Commodores’ "Brick House." Just one of the great soul and funk songs on the soundtrack, it also serves as a reminder that much of Muppet humor is aimed at the parents of its young audience, those who know that the song isn’t about a dwelling at all.

When Gonzo’s family arrives for a visit, it’s less Close Encounters of the Third Kind and more like the P-Funk mothership landing. Muppets from Space brings across its message of acceptance and belonging with an infectious joy. It’s a refreshing summer tonic, like going for a swim with cosmic fish.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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