Muppets From Space

(Tim Hill, USA, 1999)


For a change, Kermit the frog is not the centre of attention in Muppets From Space. Gonzo, afflicted by an identity crisis, takes the honours this time around.

A dream sequence – the most amusing and inventive moment of this otherwise dull movie – shows Gonzo being refused admittance to the Ark by a bearded Noah (F. Murray Abraham): there is, tragically, only one of his kind.

Messages from beyond cue our pining hero to 'watch the skies' for signs of his true ancestry. Muppets from Space then spins out a long plot detour in order to delay the spectacular resolution of its main story line.

The ever-vain Miss Piggy becomes, by stealth, anchorwoman on a TV show devoted to the paranormal. Elsewhere, a grim, paranoid, government agent (Jeffrey Tambor from TV's The Larry Sanders Show) schemes to obliterate any sign of alien invasion.

The revolution inaugurated by The Simpsons and South Park in the realm of children's entertainment is simply explained: their makers had the savvy to include sharply contemporary pop culture references. Many works hailing from the Muppet and Disney empires, by contrast, trot out jokes and allusions that are up to four decades behind current taste. It is as if the sensibilities of these undoubtedly gifted creators congealed long ago.

Muppets from Space is, in this regard, rather like those feeble Australian TV sketch comedies which, twenty years after the fact, still indulge lame gags about John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (1977). Just about everything in this new Muppets movie harks back to the '60s and '70s – from soul-funk standards and a pastiche of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) to one-liners about famous American newsreaders.

The appeal to non-American kids of this outdated parade is surely a bit limited. Still, there are rousing moments of chaotic slapstick and a few enjoyable dance routines (choreographed by Toni Basil) to compensate.

And it is always fascinating to study the variable ability of human actors to emote hammily as they stare downwards at a puppet: Tambor and David Arquette do well, while Ray Liotta and Andie MacDowell seem stricken by a glazed-over self-consciousness.

MORE Hill: Max Keeble's Big Move

© Adrian Martin December 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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