Muppets From Space
Chris Smigliano (7-14-99) - I'm usually better with pictures than with words, but here goes...
I just saw Muppets From Space, and right now I can tell you that the "movie critics" who gave the film negative or lukewarm reviews don't know what the heck they're talking about.
The film is fantastic, easily the best since The Great Muppet Caper, but with a definitely more serious and dramatic tone underneath all the silliness. This film, believe it or not, tends to be more the lines of a comedy-drama than the previous films, and the Muppets pull it off brilliantly, striking a balance of comedy and pathos.
Part of this is due to the addition of something truly lacking since Caper, basically an element of danger. Like Doc Hopper or Nicky Holiday, Singer provides a threat to the Muppets well being that allows us to feel more towards them, and to pull for them. Many of Gonzo's scenes with Tambour (as Singer) actually have a tone of menace to them. (Indeed, Singer may be the best all-time Muppet Movie villain.)
A lot of the film's success, of course, can be credited to Dave Goelz, who gives his most brilliant performance of Gonzo ever. Gonzo proves to be a truly multi-layered character here, as we see about every side of him imaginable. He practically carries the movie on all levels.
And of course, the other Muppet performers are in top form as well. Steve Whitmire, who just continues on remarkably as Kermit, Beaker, and Rizzo, who as usual works terrifically with Gonzo, but contributes a lot on his own as well.
Bill Barretta is hilarious as both the laid-back Bobo (as Rentro), and Pepe the Prawn, who practically steals many of the scenes he's in. Brian Henson does his twisted best as Phil Van Neuter, and kudos should be given to supporting puppeteers Kennedy, Boyd, and Linz; subbing, if not dubbing, for Frank Oz, who makes Miss Piggy her usual narcissistic self.
If there was one complaint I have about the movie, is that I wish they did more with the Muppet Boarding House. Those sequences were the most fun of the movie. Hopefully they'll do more with it in future films. (I wouldn't have minded if the whole movie took place in the Boarding House.) And the various Muppet cameos supplement the fun. Dr. Teeth, Johnny and Sal, and the pleasant return of Scooter beautifully voiced by Adam Hunt, Richard Hunts brother. The finale with the Ubergonzo landing was both rousing and touching. I nearly lost it when he started saying goodbye, which is how real these characters seem. I think one of the best things I can say about this movie is that in the theater, the adults were enjoying it even more than the kids.
Go see this movie now. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I give this movie four Kermits.
D. W. McKim (7-19-99) - In many ways, "Muppets From Space" plays an important role in the Muppets' history as the first post-Henson film where the Classic Muppet characters play themselves and are integrated with the newer "Muppets Tonight" characters. Regardless of how well the film holds up on its own merits, the creative staff faced huge challenges given that the final product would inevitably serve as a barometer of where the Muppets are at.
Surprisingly they pass the harder test with flying colors; fans worldwide may breathe a collective sigh that the Muppets are in capable hands (or rather capable hands are inside the Muppets!), although as a stand-alone film, the final cut is fairly uneven. Luckily, since most of the movie's blemishes sprout from the writing and direction, the performers are able to compensate as they're truly at the top of their form.
The main problem with MFS is that it suffers from severe schizophrenia; perhaps the unfortunate result of so many changes in writers and directors during pre-production. The film simply, on many levels, does not know what it wants to be; a sci-fi sendoff, a genre film that happens to star Muppets, wild, restrained, etc. Much of the film's middle tends to commit one of the gravest Muppet sins - taking itself too seriously. Despite the high energy opening, the script is noticeably lacking in-jokes, leaving the job of providing humor to the performances. Brian Henson, having produced and directed such high quality sci-fi fare as "Farscape" should know well the level of sophistication required to appeal to audiences of the sci-fi genre and its parodies.
While some nods to films like "Shankshaw Redemption" is present, most of the script's jokes are weak and predictable such as "May the fish be with you". Even a Statler and Waldorf exchange is recycled from the Muppet Show. Thankfully, the Muppets pick up the writers' slack and even an old chestnut like "No nostrils, how does he smell?" "Awful. I should know, I'm his roommate" is delivered so perfectly that the lines still elicit laughs. Comedy exists, but not on the sidesplitting level that can be found in other Muppet fare. Even the one gut-busting moment comes not from a Muppet, but from a prop. To quote from the Sheyangs from "Farscape", "You had nothing, but you used it." (Okay, if we're going to quote Farscape, this may be too harsh, as MFS did have more in its script than "nothing", so if you prefer, lets quote John's line to Aeryn... "You could be more!")
I hate to dwell on the negatives up front especially because there's so much the film does have to offer but unfortunately the finer points can't be adequately discussed without awareness of these flaws. Generally, MFS is a marvelous film and a wild ride. Unfortunately, the viewer has difficulty sitting back and enjoying the ride if he doesn't know where he's going or if the ride is supposed to be on a subway or gondola. One must always be willing to engage in disbelief when watching a movie and Muppet films in particular, but a viewer doesn't know which beliefs the film wants it to suspend.
Take for example how the Muppets are utilized. In "Christmas Carol" and "Treasure Island", the Muppets were playing distinct parts. In the first three films, they played characters based on themselves but the viewer was still aware of the fact that the characters were in the act of making a movie; each film, to varying degree, contained elements of the cast meeting each other for the first time. MFS presumably casts the Muppets for the first time as purely themselves, already knowing each other, living together, and exposing a "day in the life". Newer Muppets like Clifford, Pepe, and Johnny Fiamma share space in the Muppet Boarding House along with the older characters.
So why then, is Bobo "cast" as another character named "Rentro"? Phil Van Neuter at least retains his name but is still treated as if the other Muppets had no prior acquaintance with him. Perhaps it could be explained that the movie takes place just prior to "Muppets Tonight" though why Bobo has a different identity still is left hanging (maybe he changed it for security reasons?) Unlike a film like David Lynch's "Lost Highway" where the experienced is heightened by explanations sought from outside sources such as press and promotional material, a Muppet film shouldn't require such "homework". Not that looking for outside answers would be helpful anyway since the Henson Company doesn't appear to know itself what exactly it's trying to accomplish. If a devoted fan for over 25 years like myself can't "get it", a 10 year old who may know the Muppets mostly from newer fare like "Muppets Tonight" will be completely lost.
Such lack of clarity hinders the portrayal of older characters as well. Miss Piggy struggles to rise from the ranks of gofer on the set of "UFO Mania" to become an on-air personality. Why should she have to? There's not acknowledgment - even from the pig herself - of her superstar past. One would think Piggy would be thrusting the fact that she was the star of "Pigs in Space" for four years down everyone's throats - you want ratings, give 'em moi! A stronger choice would be for Miss Piggy to have been hired purely as a gimmick and being relegated to fluff pieces and watching her then try to prove her journalistic merits are purely capable of exceeding those of the show's head reporter, Shelly Snipes (Andie MacDowell). The end result would have been the same, and at the same time remained true to the characters and their histories. But at least, while Piggy fans may feel let down by the script, Oz (and others) still deliver the goods in the performance - although again the unclear concept creeps its way into a scene where Piggy makes it on air for the first time. She freezes up once the lights go on, delivering one of the film's funniest moments. Since this television journalist is new territory for Piggy, it's also justified. But then, she tries reading the cue cards and delivers them in a horrible monotone - not the kind of delivery one would expect from a superstar.
Oz's other characters fare much better. Fozzie fans are in for a treat since the bear has been consistently underused this last decade and is back in the core group where he belongs. When Kermit learns that Gonzo's been kidnapped, his rescue team consists of whoever else is present when the news is delivered, namely himself, Piggy, Fozzie, Animal, and Pepe obviously Oz's characters are represented well. Admirers of Bill Barretta will also love the film as his characters, most notably Pepe and Bobo/Rentro provide the best comic moments. Pepe blends in perfectly with the older group and does quite well on his own without his usual partner, Seymour (who's no where to be found, not even as an extra.) Bobo/Rentro rises above the conceptual confusion to become one of the film's highlights. Call him whatever you wish, but call him hysterical, especially as a foil to the film's antagonist, K. Edgar Singer (Jeffery Tambor). Phil Van Neuter lovers will also be delighted as he's his typically engaging, delightfully wickedly sadistic self ("If you experience any unpleasantness, be sure to let me know - I'd hate to miss anything!")
High energy abounds from foam but flesh folks fall flat. With a few notable exceptions, most of the human cameo actors don't even try to contribute; they probably felt the Muppets would upstage them anyway so why bother. The usually brilliant Andie MacDowell also fell into that same trap during her guest stint on Muppets Tonight and had I only known of her work from her Muppet appearances, I would have been under the impression that this was a no-talent who gained fame through her looks. Most of the "actors" could have learned a lot from Josh Charles and Kathy Griffin who both infuse their small screen time with both humor and subtext. Kathy's performance as a security guard who falls victim to Animal's charms is a riot on its own, which in turn gives Animal something to play off of making his performance all the more better, and the cycle of give-and-take continues as Kathy then feeds off of Animal. Josh Charles, rather than play his part as a "Men In Black" stereotype, adds an element of being seemingly turned on by fighting with (and being tied up by) Piggy.
I've seen some reviews from other critics who felt Tambor was too evil for a Muppet film, but I strongly disagree. Yes, K. Edgar Singer is a bit darker a villain than say, Charles Groden's Nicky Holiday, but given the tone of the film it works here. Besides, being paired with the gentle Bobo helps contribute a wonderful balance that makes the interplay between the two priceless. I'll admit, back in the 70's when he was on the Three's Company spin-off, The Ropers, Tambor reminded me very much of a human version of Sam the Eagle. And so it comes as little surprise that he works well with the Muppets even if his performance simultaneously borrows from Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet".
And the star himself, Dave Goelz turns in his continually multi-layered performance as Gonzo, one the repertoire's most three-dimensional characters and well deserving of his lead role. However, those who list Gonzo as their favorite Muppet still may feel slightly let down. For one thing, there's no reference to his love for chickens unless you count his poultry print pajamas. Chickens do appear in the film, but only among the extras. Perhaps his friendship over the last decade with rats and prawns have raised some questions in the poor lad's affectionate preferences? But worse yet, Gonzo's trademark lunacy is missing in the script. The only times Gonzo does anything quirky is as a result of his alien contact. Those not familiar with the character may wonder why the other Muppets may be so dismissive when he starts communing with his breakfast cereal. The alien Gonzos end up being much more Gonzo-like than, well, Gonzo as they express their joy through a high-spirited musical number and by giving our favorite weirdo a ceremonial cannon blast. Once again, here is an example of how despite the script's weaknesses, the performer is able to deliver a powerful delivery and save what could have been a gross "fur paux".
When the announcement was made that this film wouldn't have the musical numbers of the others, many fans were concerned. My thoughts were to give them a chance since given the concept, they probably wouldn't be necessary. Turns out my premonition was correct. Two full-scale musical numbers appear and the rest of the music is used as part of the underscore. The existing production numbers are used appropriately and had a third existed, it probably would have taken away from the film. The 70s style disco/funk is perfect for the Muppets' trademark goofiness and the closing credit images reinforce this synergy. Granted, the lack of Muppet numbers makes for a week soundtrack album, but that's a separate review!
Unfortunately though, once again the aforementioned schizophrenia interferes; the opening number, the Commodores' "Brick House" is well used, the images of Muppets awakening for another morning of mayhem work wonderfully with the mood of the song until the very end when we see a cluster of Muppets lip syncing along. That image ruined the song for me; if the Muppets were going to do this, why not record a Muppet version of the song? Somehow the whole idea just seemed like it would be more appropriate in the proposed film, "The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made." (Piggy goes to sing a dramatic love song and out of her mouth comes the sound of Isaac Hayes. After Gonzo apologizes, saying that they couldn't afford backing musicians and that she'd have to lip sync to the record, he then tries to fix the problem of Hayes' bass sounding nothing like Piggy's alto by cranking the disc up to 78 rpm.)
Though I've harped quite a bit on the script, I should mention that the story itself is a strong one. However I sense that as it was passed on from Jerry Juhl to the other authors, each subsequent person may have amplified existing weaknesses rather than improve on them, or perhaps each writer had their own vision that didn't mesh with the others. Director Tim Hill should of course share some responsibility here as a director's job is to blend everything in a film into one coherent concept. MFS is Hill's feature film debut, so he may have forgotten this important task from his film school notes. Hopefully he'll learn from his mistakes on his future projects because from a technical standpoint, Hill works very well with the Muppets. He shares in their sensibilities and allows them the space to let their performances and characterizations shine the way they do. Just so long as he can be clearer with where he wants to go, I'd love to see him collaborate with the Muppets again.
So enough babbling about the film on its own, what is the Muppet State of the Union? Very encouraging! The film proves that the Classic Muppets and the newer characters work well together, and that yes, recasting Henson and Hunt's characters are indeed a huge strength and not a weakness as many have feared. True, several characters (and not just henson/Hunt's) end up with one or two lines and some fans may want to see their favorite characters used more. However, each Muppet that appeared in the film was utilized wisely. Even characters like Bean, Marvin Suggs, Crazy Harry, and Sweetums that have no lines still appear in ways that allow their screen time to be of value. Unlike Treasure Island, where the viewer was consciously aware that the script was being written so as to avoid having the late performers' characters speak the dialogue ratios here are much more natural. Even Dr. Teeth (who is voiced brilliantly) gets in more lines than anyone else does from the Electric Mayhem, obviously excepting Animal. Now one just hopes that now the Henson Company can now go forward and give these characters the lines they deserve in future projects; the "baby steps" that Rentro is so fond of are no longer necessary.
While it still may be a secret to the general public, most major Muppet fans (i.e. the ones reading this review to begin with) are aware that several characters were not actually played a lot of the time by their usual performer. They had their voices looped later (most notably in the case of Oz's, Nelson's, and Clash's puppets.) Yet, even those who are aware of this fact will soon forget that this is the case; all the performances are so seamless that one simply doesn't even concern himself over which scenes are actually being done by Oz or not. The puppeteers are a very talented team. Because they're able to trade off so effectively bodes very well for the future as there will be, sad to say, a day when these people are no longer among us. And unlike having to be taken completely unawares, the secondary performers are getting valuable on-the-job training so when it does happen, these characters will be ready to continue. Even if one doesn't like the idea of someone else playing a character, the script demands would have required this anyway, even if Frank was on the set the entire time; three of his characters are often seen together during the rescue mission. This has been a situation that's occurred ever since the beginning; someone else has to help out when at least two puppets by the same performer appear simultaneously so it's just no big deal folks!
Overall, MFS is a very enjoyable experience. That it succeeds so well despite the presence of cracks in the foundation is a testament to its worthiness in the Muppet catalog. I doubt any fans will consider this to be their favorite film, but many will probably list it as a second favorite. I'm definitely looking forward to what comes next, but in the meantime I'll certainly savor this chapter.
Danny Horn (7-19-99) - I know just how Gonzo feels. As a Muppet fan, I've often felt like a one-of-a-kind freak. The world is sometimes not kind to Muppet fans; our movies don't get the same kind of publicity and merchandising frenzies that accompany other movies with bigger guns and nastier aliens. Maybe that's why seeing the Muppet Boarding House - huge on the screen and alive with color, music, and crazy action - felt so much like coming home.
Considering how obvious a setting it is for a movie, it's amazing that we've never seen where the Muppets live before. And it's even more amazing that when we finally see the Muppet Boarding House in the opening scenes of "Muppets From Space," it's exactly what you always imagined it would be - an insane menagerie, the site of wild breakfasts, card games and musical production numbers. That's why it's such a total pleasure to see Kermit wake up, stroll down the corridor and enter the insane world of his Muppet family for another day. I wish I could own the video today so that I could watch that opening number a few more times, right in a row. It's got all the energy and fun that I want in a Muppet movie, all in the first five minutes. And that energy, I was happy to find, is carried throughout the movie.
The plot of the movie is fairly simple and not really enough to carry an 80-something-minute film. Gonzo gets a message from aliens, gets captured, gets rescued, and goes to meet the aliens, end of the movie, good night everyone. That means that each section is really longer than it ought to be. (Gonzo gets messages from aliens: 20 minutes of your life. Gonzo gets captured: another 20 minutes of your life.) If this movie was meant to rest solely on this story, it would be a pretty slow affair.
Luckily, the plot is much less important than the style here, which sparkles. There's Pepe and Piggy and James Brown and a talking sandwich. And that stuff is so funny and beautiful that I was almost glad that the story was slow, as it gave them more time to wring funny stuff out of every situation.
The movie is funny, just plain laugh-out-loud funny. There are dozens of lines and scenes that still make me smile every time I think of them: the card game, doctors in the hallway, the sandwich talking as Gonzo tries to take a bite, the goat, the raspberry flopovers, platinum belt with an unlimited line of credit, and the invisibility spray wearing off. Other great lines were we don't forget about our friends, practically anything that Dr. Van Neuter says, and the Jacuzzi. I've read some reviews - both by critics and by fans - that say this movie isn't funny, and I honestly don't know what movie they saw. If there's one thing "Muppets From Space" has, it's jokes.
Pepe is the obvious standout, and all Muppet fans should be glad for the day Bill Barretta entered our lives. Clueless Morgan stole "Treasure Island," and now Pepe steals "Space" right out from under Gonzo's legendary nose. Every line that Pepe utters is a laugh line - he gets more than his share of the punch lines, and "I will spank you like a bad, bad donkey" is possibly the best line in the film. Even for people who never saw "Muppets Tonight," Pepe fits seamlessly into the Muppet world. He deserves his place in the main cast, and I hope that he stays there.
And it's nice to actually have a main cast, isn't it? I have a lot of affection for the last two films, especially "Treasure Island," but they both committed the major sin of splitting up the Muppet cast. In "Christmas Carol," Fozzie didn't even exist in the same time period as Kermit, and "Treasure Island" kept Piggy waiting in the wings until two-thirds of the movie was over. "Muppets From Space" corrected that flaw by putting the main team front and center - Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rizzo, Animal and Pepe all working together, with capable assist by Bunsen and Beaker. After the opening scenes in the boarding house, the best, most lively parts are the rescue scenes, with all the main characters appearing together. There's a reason why these characters have consistently been the most popular for two decades - they're the most interesting and three-dimensional, and it's wonderful seeing them take center stage again as a team.
Kermit is especially assured throughout the movie. Even though he's not the main character of the movie, he's appropriately depicted as the center of the Muppet house - the one who paints the house and fixes the toaster and listens to Gonzo when he's feeling down. He's a warm and comforting parent figure, and I loved seeing Gonzo turning to Kermit for advice and support. I also loved seeing Kermit leading all the rescue missions - first charging into the TV station and then into Covnet HQ to help his friends. Whitmire's performance is more confident than ever before - I never spared a moment thinking about how his Kermit matched Henson's. This is Kermit.
As a Pig fan, I also thought Miss Piggy was well used. As a minor plot line, Piggy's battle to rise from coffee pig to anchor is a perfect new play on her eternal struggle-to-stardom. She's aggressive and selfish, and to anyone who doesn't like her that way, I say, "It's a Piggy thing, you wouldnt understand." Her glamour and confidence is constantly undercut by circumstance; her vampish strut across Muppet Labs is interrupted by a pratfall. And yet somehow, she always emerges triumphant, and her hair always looks great. It's classic Piggy. For Pig fans, "Muppets From Space" contains a real treat - a scene that may be her first on-screen extended karate fight with a single opponent. Agent Barker's bout with Piggy is hilarious, especially because he seems to be getting aroused by her. Her next scene is perfect - Barker is falling for her, so she beat him up, tied him up, used him for information and runs away and forgets about him. As I said, its classic Piggy.
This review is getting impossibly long, and I still haven't mentioned everything I like about this film, the soundtrack, for one. Maybe this is sacrilege for the "Rainbow Connection" crowd, but let's face facts: musical numbers slow a film down, and "Muppets From Space" is slow enough without needing any extra help. The decision to (more or less) abandon production numbers in favor of a funk soundtrack was a brilliant one. The soundtrack pumps up the energy level throughout the film, and the Muppets couldn't have picked a cooler sound for the film. "Way to get down with your bad selves!" Kermit nods, and what do you know, it seems natural. The Muppets can be corny sometimes, but they can also be cool and funky, and the songs give the movie a consistent, up-to-date feel without resorting to the horror of a rock-and-rap soundtrack. Late-90's songs would have made the movie sound dated within three years, but James Brown and the Commodores will always be cool.
The look of the film is also top-notch. The movie just looks gorgeous, the puppets are lit and shot incredibly well, and every shot encourages the viewer to appreciate what a work of art each individual puppet is. The sets and costumes are also terrific - the boarding house is completely believable as a Muppet house, with lots of tiny details that are fun to notice but not overwhelming. The special effects are way beyond what you'd expect in a Muppet movie. I saw the movie with a science-fiction friend, and even he was impressed by the Alien Gonzos' ship, and by the struck-by-lightning freeze-frame.
Okay, so now this really is getting too long, so I'll just take a moment to mention some of the other highlights. Kathy Griffin's terrific cameo. Bobo's much-needed comic relief in the otherwise very serious Covnet scenes. David Arquette's terrific cameo. The paper umbrella in the glass of rat poison. Pepe singing "Help me find the funk!" Jerry Nelson's hepcat performance as Ubergonzo, and the very loving, Muppetesque redemption of all the villains at the end of the movie. Sure, there are some slow spots, and some unfortunate moments - paging Hollywood Hogan and the Dawson's Creek cast - but there's just so much that goes right in this film. I had a wonderful time and, like Gonzo, "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday." After all, my breakfast cereal is telling me to see it again
Vanessa Dickey (7-20-99) - Just when you thought there was no future in being a Gonzo fan
I've always loved Gonzo. From the first time the little blue weirdo stepped out on a certain stage and announced to a restless audience that he would eat a rubber tire to the music of "The Flight of the Bumblebee", Gonzo's took up a special place in my heart. Even as a very young child, I identified with his enthusiasm touched by melancholy, his obsession tinged with mania, and his creativity born of destruction and daring.
But I quickly learned that being a Gonzo fan was not all fun and games. Although Gonzo did become one of the Muppet Show's top billings, he never was really a star. The stars were Kermit and Miss Piggy. Being Kermit's sidekick gave Fozzie a little more screen time than the average second banana, but basically, the pig and the frog were it. Don't get me wrong - I have always liked Kermit, Piggy, and Fozzie - but, I must confess, during many Muppet Show backstage scenes, I was secretly ignoring the foreground action to see if Gonzo might be standing upstairs near the dressing rooms or just wandering around through the props and backgrounds. If he was, I didn't watch anyone else.
Needless to say, my favorite episodes were "Gonzo" ones, like when Gonzo falls in love with Madeline Kahn, when Gonzo decides to leave for India to become a movie star, when Gonzo auditions dancing chickens, when Gonzo plays Darth Vader, when Gonzo puts himself through his own torture of chambers as a happily loopy Sheriff of Nottingham. What Gonzo fan can forget our beloved little blue whatever's "I Am Strolling Down Memory Lane Without a Single Thing to Remember" or "The Wishing Song"?
And, of course, that beautiful, haunting ballad "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday". I must confess that song had a pretty amazing effect on me when I first heard it at 9 years old. And as I traveled through my teenage and adult years, it continued to be an inspiration to me. Just like Gonzo himself, it epitomizes sad longing and eternal hope simultaneously. Somehow hearing and singing along with it always made me feel better in bad times.
But did any of us Gonzo fans ever dream one of our favorite Muppet anthems would become a movie?
And what a movie, from the beginning dream sequence where Gonzo is rejected a ride on the ark for being one-of-a-kind to his joyous reunion with his original family and his equally happy reunion with his adoptive one, "Muppets From Space" is an interesting, happy, and sweet film. Even non-Gonzo fans can enjoy Rizzo's "Shawshank Redemption" escape from the lab rat horror and the gang's crazy efforts to get into the compound. We're treated to Pepe's antics, Bobo's gentle bumbling, as well as lots of cameos by other old-time favorites like Scooter and Sam the Eagle. Like any good Muppet movie, it's furry, frantic, and, foremost - fun.
But best of all, "Muppets From Space" is a dream come true for Gonzo fans. We always knew that Gonzo was a star but had reluctantly grown used to our little favorite being overshadowed by the frogs and the pigs and the bears of the world. But with "Muppets From Space", our faith has been vindicated - the big-screen story of Gonzo's journey into his origins has proven that even "whatevers" have interesting histories and fascinating personalities. Or should I now say, "aliens"?
And may the fish be with you too.
Chad Garner (7-24-99) - Well, overall it had some nice moments. The only main old character that is still strong is Gonzo. Kermit, Fozzie, and Piggy are simple cardboard cutouts of themselves. I particularly have a problem with Piggy in this film. She has always had her aggressive, selfish side, however, she has always had a naiveté to her. They have made her too masculine in this film in some scenes, for example, by kicking a guy where he shouldnt be kicked. Well, I thought the Muppets were more clever and original than that. I love the new shrimp guy's expanded role. Pepe and Rizzo have some good moments.
Henson should try to come up with some better female characters if theyre going to make Piggy so unlikable. It's little wonder the Miss Piggy craze of the early 80s is over. Why would anyone want a doll of Miss Piggy had she first been introduced as she is in MFS. The lack of a relationship between Piggy and Kermit was also missed. They have lost their chemistry.
Another magical moment of Muppet movies past when the characters have played themselves was the fact that they were in the outside world more. Like on the streets of New York, London, or small town America. Another difference is that the first three films and even up to Muppet Christmas Carol had a big screen quality to them, but MFS would have been fine on TV. My favorite Muppet film of course is the first one for sentimental reasons. The best Muppet acting in all the films they have done was in The Muppets Take Manhattan. But after all my negative feedback go see it for some cool scenes.
Cindy Chapman (7-25-99) - To say that I was looking forward to seeing Muppets From Space is a huge understatement. Ever since The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, I've been waiting for a chance to see all my favorite Muppets back on the big screen. So when last Wednesday came, I was found at the theatre, buying the first ticket, of the first showing, on the first day. Then it was time. Myself and thirty or so other strangers, settled ourselves for what would be a fabulous hour and a half. It was so great to see that the dust had been brushed off of some of our favorite old Muppets. Scooter, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Bunsen and Beaker, Janice... nearly everyone from the old "gang" was there. We were even graced with the presence of that jolly old jalopy, the Electric Mayhem bus. Although the screen time for the older Muppets was brief, it just shows that they are still around, and certainly not forgotten.
There was also a nice blend of old and new characters. Pepe certainly stole the show with his offbeat humor and his constant desire to be "bigger" than he really is. Rizzo and Gonzo's relationship was as strong as ever. The live actors also meshed well with the rest of the Muppets.
Kermit was in prime form for this movie. As with most people, I too had some reservations about Kermit being performed by someone other than the great Jim Henson. But Steve Whitmire has certainly laid those worries aside. Not only was Kermit his usual self; caring, sensitive, wise, and taking charge, but it really felt like it was Jim performing Kermit. I suppose Jim's soul will always in some way reside in Kermit. Steve has some pretty big shoes to fill, and he is certainly proving that he's giving it his all.
Although this movie was nothing like any of the other movies that we've seen from the Muppets, it was certainly in a class of its own. But just like any other Muppet movie, this one had action, drama, romance, and a pig dying to steal the show. True, we didn't get any of those zany Muppet singing and musical numbers we typically see, but the soundtrack to Muppets From Space was spectacular. The audience members were bouncing in their seats to the music. I personally was glad to see that the Muppets were able to get "funky".
I've only seen the movie once, yet I plan to see it several more times before it leaves the big screen. Each time I'm sure I'll love the movie even more and more. This is a great time for the Muppets. Hopefully this movie will introduce the Muppets to a whole new generation, and re-introduce them to a generation that might have forgotten them. My only regret was that the movie was too short. I've heard of some of the scenes that got cut, and it's just such a shame that we weren't able to enjoy them. But of course, this is coming from someone who could spend eight hours or more watching a Muppet marathon. All in all I think Muppets From Space was great, it was fresh, exciting, and reminiscent of the "good old days". I think the Jim Henson crew did a fabulous job with this movie. Jim Henson should be proud. And as Miss Piggy would say it was "Tres Fantastique!"
Dawn Archdeacon (07-26-99) - This is a must-see Muppet movie. Don't wait for the video. Don't even wait for it to hit the second-run cinemas. If you are really broke, go to the matinee. Skip the over-priced popcorn and by a second ticket (for a friend, or see it again yourself).
The plot is your basic "quest for personal identity" plot line, skewed as only a Muppet film can be. A little too basic, perhaps, but the "predictability" of the underlying plot balance out the overall weirdness (cosmic fish, channeling through a sandwich, etc). The random tangents (Animal's fling with the security guard, Rizzo's adventures as a lab-rat) add to, rather than detract from, the zaniness.
The pacing is snappy, the movie practically flew by. If anything, it could have used slowing down just a little bit (maybe with the occasional musical number). The first time through, I could hardly keep up. The second time I watched it, though, it was to catch a lot more of the jokes, and at no point did the movie seem to drag. In general, I prefer the faster pace. I like movies that get better each time I watch them, but those who only watch MFS once will be missing out.
I laughed. I snickered. I giggled. The jokes are sly, the movie references are frequent, and the slapstick and sight gags are classic. My favorites were the bits about the HMO covering Gonzo's brain removal ("with a $10 co-payment") and the mashed potato-Gonzo. The humor is definitely geared toward the adult audience; kids may be too young too get some of the gags. For example, my 13-year-old brother didn't get the mashed potato-Gonzo bit; he hasn't seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
My only true disappointment in the film is the soundtrack. Muppets and music go together like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Sure, you could have a Muppet movie without lots of musical numbers, but it isn't the same. And in my book, it doesn't count as a musical number if the Muppets aren't singing; the Scooby-Doo technique (music in the background while the bad guys are chasing our heroes) doesn't cut it. Musical numbers allow us to catch our breath between gags and give us something to hum afterwards. Musical numbers lend themselves to "big" scenes, with lots of cameos by characters that might not otherwise get much screen time. Musical numbers are great interludes for kids, and anyone else who might not get all the jokes. Musical numbers give the audience a chance to appreciate the set and costume design. I could go on and on.
The opening number was great. But some other scenes are just begging for song cues like the Jacuzzi party, the bus trip to rescue Gonzo, the crowd scene at Cape Doom. And there should have been at least one good "sentimental" song for Gonzo to sing. Oh, and while I liked the alien "Celebration," it was too short! Why didn't they sing a medley of songs? "We Are Family" comes immediately to mind.
The sets are incredible. The uniqueness of each character's room and the detail involved amaze me, along with the variety in costumes, especially those of the extras in the crowd scenes. I am astounded.
"Muppetness" is that ineffable quality that makes these movies so unique and so wonderful. It's based on the Muppets themselves, and the humor, and a little on the sweetness, and a lot on the unabashed joy of being a part of the movie (even just as an audience member). This one had "it". There was a good mix of "Classic" Muppets (pre-1990) and "Next Generation" Muppets (post-1990). Muppets that hadn't been in the forefront of the last couple of films (Animal, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker) got a chance to shine. The humor, as I've said, was on the money; more importantly, the gags were well balanced with the sentimental parts.
I went to the film in a high state of anticipation, and left the film happy.
Josh Hankemeier (9-9-99) - This is truly one of the best Muppet projects ever made. A thunderous roar of applause goes to everyone who worked on this film.
First of all, the characters are played with the same excellence as back in "the old days". Steve Whitmire is doing an excellent job as Kermit. None of us know the incredible feeling of responsibility this man has to bring Kermit to life the way Jim did. Although he's not the main character of the film, Kermit still has his "Kermit-ness". He is funny, supportive, optimistic, and caring... He is the Kermit we all know.
Piggy is the same way. I loved the Piggy fight scene. Until now, no one has ever had the chance to take a strike at Piggy. Now we see a real opponent for her, that is until he's tied up and left behind. The "freeze" scene when she went on camera as an anchor-pig was funny! The monotone cue card reading also made me laugh. Piggy's still got it.
I was also pleased to see Fozzie being used in this film. He had so many hilarious scenes. Fozzie has always aimed to be the funniest bear in the world. He did it with flying colors. I had to laugh at the line, "Kermit...I got to go to the little bear's room." And when he was picking his nose when the invisible spray wore off was one of the funniest Fozzie moments I have ever seen!
Pepe and Rizzo were really great, too. They work together well, and blend right in with the Muppet family. Pepe, undoubtedly, had some of the best lines in the film. "I will spank you like a big fat donkey!" and his little ballet scene was funny in a Muppety way. The rat lab scenes were done very well. Rizzo has become even more of a main character in this film. I look forward to seeing him in future Muppet projects.
And what about Gonzo? It is through the goggle eyes of this weirdo that we all know and love, that we see this beautifully made film. Dave Goelz has made one of the most beloved Muppet characters ever, and given him even more dimensionality. Until now (with some exceptions) we have seen Gonzo as an eccentric, laughing crazily as he performs his hilarious stunts. Now we see a side of Gonzo that all of us expected there to be. There are scenes where we almost feel Gonzo's loneliness. The Noah's Ark scene is one of the most emotional moments in the film. There is another scene where Gonzo looks at pictures of the others on the mantle. Everyone has family members but him. After a lifetime of being alone, you can't blame Gonzo for going a little bananas when he receives the "R U THERE?" messages.
As a lifetime Muppet fan, I can totally relate to Gonzo's position. We all can in a way. It's too bad that society has somewhat labeled Henson as a children's entertainer, and nothing else--refusing to look deeper and recognize the adult humor and sophistication put into so many of his projects. I mean, come on, we all get funny looks when we pile Muppet stuff on store counters, and at one point in time or another, we were all teased for liking a "children's entertainer" when we went through our teen years.
In this aspect, I see a lot of myself in Gonzo when I watch this film. Heck, I live in a dormitory with as much diversity as the Muppet crowd in the boarding house, yet I'm a "whatever" among them. I breathed a sigh of relief when the spaceship landed, and Gonzo realized he was not alone after all. I was so glad to see that Gonzo's species was NOT named, leaving us to ask the humorous "What is Gonzo?" question for years to come. I held my breath, wondering if the Ubergonzo (Jerry Nelson) was going to give it away. I was so glad he didn't.
The music was great, I loved seeing the old characters again like the Electric Mayhem band, Scooter (yay!) and of course Bunsen and Beaker. Wonderful special effects, classic Muppet humor and an underlining theme of Muppet togetherness and warmth are all in this wonderful film.
I envisioned Jim watching this with me in the theater, laughing until the tears ran down his cheeks at truly one of the best Jim-less Muppet projects ever done. To anyone who worked on the film who is reading this review, I would like to say... I think Jim would be very proud of you all.
Of course, the best scene of ALL in the film is with Animal bathing in the toilet! Did Animal write that scene? If he did, I wouldn't be surprised!
Peyton Jenkins (3-12-00) - "Muppets From Space" was great news! Do you realize that we've waited fifteen years for a Muppet movie where they actually played themselves? That's as long as I've been alive! ("The Muppets Take Manhattan" was released in America in 1984, the year before I was born.) It sure was great to see the Muppets as themselves again.
But MFS had some disappointments for die-hard Muppet fans like me. Sure, the story was great, the jokes were funny, and the Muppets were as loveable as ever, but it lacked something. A certain Muppet charm that was in all of the other movies before this one.
STAR CAMEOS: From the time I first saw Big Bird on "The Muppet Movie" to the time I realized "Hey, that's Liza Minelli!" on "The Muppets Take Manhattan", the guest stars were a great part of the fun for me. But I was really let down by the cameos in MFS. They were all pretty sorry (with the exception of Kathy Griffin). In the old Muppet movies, the Muppets interacted with the guests, like Fozzie buying ice cream and swapping jokes with Bob Hope, Kermit thinking John Cleese is a butler, and Miss Piggy being given a make-over by Joan Rivers. But in MFS, they sort of reacted to the stars (again, except for Kathy Griffin).
Also, this movie lacked a certain something that was in the first three: Sesame Street cameos. Big Bird in the Muppet Movie, Oscar the Grouch in Caper, and all of the Sesame gang in Manhattan. They could have at least put Elmo in the Muppet Boarding House or Grover at the alien landing spot.
VILLAIN: Now here's one that works great! K. Edgar Singer (Jeffrey Tambor) joins a long line of terrific Muppet villains that include Charles Grodin as Nicky Holiday, Charles Durning as Doc Hopper, Tim Curry as Long John Silver, and Jerry Nelson performing J.P. Grosse. Singer fits in nicely, despite the tacky name, but isn't it about time for a female villain? I can just see Bernadette Peters planning to turn the Muppet House into a shopping mall or Kathy Bates holding Gonzo hostage.
SETTING: The Muppet Boarding House was great! It's just like we all imagined it would be! From Kermit's fly wallpaper to Fozzie wearing a raincoat in the shower to Sam the Eagle doing morning exercises with the chickens. The fish swimming in the toilet, the Swedish Chef blowing up the oven, and Statler and Waldorf sitting on the porch swing. The house was amazing. For more than twenty years of films, we've never seen where the Muppets live… until now. And we weren't disappointed.
MUSIC: What happened to the Muppet musical numbers that we all know and love? One of the biggest problems with this movie that I have is the fact that it isn't a musical. And that rock music just doesn't go with the Muppets, although it was pretty cute to hear Kermit tell everyone to "get down with their bad selves". I suppose the Muppets have just been "ninties-fied", but I still like the old song and dance routine better.
ROMANCE: Who's the wise guy who loused up the famous Muppet love circles? I mean, Gonzo didn't make one pass at a chicken! He never complimented a cow on her legs, and he never fell in love with a guest star. He was never even seen with his girlfriend Camilla! Also, what happened to Kermit and Piggy? She's chased the frog of her dreams through three TV series, five movies, and countless books. And suddenly, MFS comes out and the "romance" fizzles away. But of course, Animal hasn't lost his knack as he chases Kathy Griffin down the hall. But it isn't long before the tables have turned and she's chasing him.
MUPPETS: We were all happy that Fozzie and Kermit are teamed up again. We were ecstatic that Statler and Waldorf hadn't lost their sense of humor. We were happy that Bunsen and Beaker once again provided the others help through a "sadly temporary" device. But what happened to everyone else? The Electric Mayhem (except Animal), Rowlf the Dog, Scooter, Sweetums, Bo, and Lew Zealand have all been reduced to background players! I know that most of their puppeteers have passed away, but they still could have just been there a little more. And what's with Bobo having a new name of Rentro? That really didn't fit in with the Muppet theme. But I have to admit that Dr. Phil Van Neuter's brief, yet hilarious cameo was wonderful! Next to the Muppet Boarding House scene, Phil's is my favorite. He is probably one of the funniest Muppets ever created.
Even with all of the disappointments along the way, Muppets From Space was a hilarious, delightful, happy movie about family and love. Even with all of the "could have been betters", it's still a Muppet movie and that's reason enough to love it.
Noah Ginex (3-13-00) - After seeing Muppets from Space four times, I can now say that it wasn't as horrible as I thought it was the first few times. Much of the story was good, although the writing should have been left solely to Jerry Juhl, who not only knows the Muppets like his own children, but he knows what's right for the Muppets.
Case in point: Clifford coming on to Katie Holmes. Not unforgivable and in character for Clifford, but not necessary. However, each time I saw the movie, my cringing got worse when the interrogation scene came up. I am speaking of the reference Rizzo made to "the final destination of that finger". I was appalled at how this type of scatological humor could make it under the radar into the film. Similarly, Miss Piggy's comment about having to pee did not need to be in the film, and also Fozzie with his finger up his nose was unnecessary. I think these were examples of the new writers trying to see how far they could push things.
Leaving Bunsen and Beaker at the gas station was also something that was written for a cheap laugh, and was obviously not in the characters mentalities at all. Kermit would never let them be left there.
The last negative thing I will say is this: The movie was filled with too much dialogue and action ripped right out of other Muppet movies, i.e. The "sadly temporary" exchange in Bunsen and Beaker's lab (The Muppet Movie), and although it was nice to have Scooter back, Scooter selling T-shirts at the Alien Landing was basically a tracing of Scooter selling popcorn at the 3-D house in MTM. This leads me to believe that the writers wrote down what they remembered from the first three movies. If Joey Mazzarino fancies himself a writer, he should stick to writing for Sesame Street, someplace he knows about, as Elmo in Grouchland was great. It's like he came off of writing that and said "I've got to be as adult as I can here!"
For the most part, however, the film was good. Pepe was very funny without his elephant friend Seymore, and Johnny & Sal were used in small doses which was nice.