TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Muppets from Space “99”

MPAA Rating: G/Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy/Human Stars: Jeffrey Tambor, Pat Hingle, Rob Schneider, Andie MacDowell, Gary Owens, F. Murray Abraham, David Arquette, Josh Charles, Kathy Griffin, Hulk Hogan, Ray Liotta, Joshua Jackson, Katie Holmes; Muppet Performers: Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, Jerry Nelson, Brian Henson, Kevin Clash, Frank Oz, Adam Hunt, John Henson, John Kennedy, Peter Linz, Rickey Boyd/ Runtime: 88 minutes

When the rain starts to fall, school is out, or your child is at home not feeling their best and they are in desperate need of something to keep them entertained, I feel you can do a whole lot worse than the iconic and legendary characters that are the Muppets. Indeed this is because the simple yet charming, whimsical, timeless and actually real puppets never don’t make a smile cross the faces of those who watch them and their adventures. Yet more than that, there is also a realistic heart and soul to these characters that manages to provide them with a life that the vast majority of computer animated characters in movies nowadays simply do not manage to possess. Indeed even in the moments where the journey these characters embark on see them going to the Big Apple or to just fulfilling their dreams of being stars, these characters are still able to main that undeniably iconic vibe of being just old school, grade-A quality family entertainment that will never cease to be engaging in the best way possible. It is with that in mind that I can safely say that even though it is was the first big Muppets film to be made in the wake of the passing of creator Jim Henson a solid ten years earlier Muppets from Space is still able to showcase that distinct magic thanks in large part to how it chooses to adhere to what has made the Muppets so successful to begin with namely producing genuine laughs and a narrative that is constructed on important life lessons for the kid in all of us. No it’s not on the same level of some of the Muppets movies from before, but at the same time it’s still the Muppets we all know and love and honestly as any fan of these characters will tell you that is truly better than nothing.

The plot is as follows: In the aftermath of The Muppets Take Manhattan we see that all our favorite Muppet characters are now living together in the same house….and even having to share the same bathroom. Yet despite Kermit getting in a little “solo time”, Miss Piggy embarking on a new career path as a television reporter, and 98% of the others all having some level of satisfaction/fulfillment in their lives Gonzo is more distraught than he has ever been. This is because he really would like to know not only just who he is, but also just where his place of origin is as well which is proving to be a bit problematic since not only he is a rather unique fellow, but he also has no known biological family to speak of.  Things soon change however when his daily breakfast of alphabet cereal mysteriously forms into a message telling our hero to keep an eye on the sky. Thus we soon see that Gonzo becomes completely and utterly fixated on reaching out to whoever sent him this message. It is with that in mind that we see Gonzo leave a message of his own into the Muppets’ backyard, but unfortunately this also gets the attention of a clandestine satellite operated by a cloak and dagger government watchdog group called C.O.V.N.E.T. which incidentally also been witnessing hints that seem to suggest alien life is trying to reach out to life on Earth. Convinced he knows more than he’s telling, we see this government group nab Gonzo and thus it is up to the rest of the Muppets to save him and in the process help him find just who he is, where he belongs, and hopefully remind him that no matter what he already has a family that loves him for who he is.

Now although Muppets from Space is nowhere near as quippy, brilliant, or iconic as the vast majority of the earlier Muppets movies, it most assuredly is not an outlier film within the Muppets canon, either. Rather, it’s plain and simply a whimsical little slice of cinematic pie all its own to say nothing of a breezy and engaging stroll that would be if sci-fi met puppets, a mix that is sure to make even Spock raise an eyebrow, but one that functions quite admirably and sets off for light speed with nary a complication. At the same time, this slice of cinematic pie is most assuredly a bit more thematically timely than the previous installment. Also when taking into consideration the fact that this movie doesn’t have to toss too much on the bonfire in terms of comedy and character bits as well as themes that are fairly universal this also makes for a wonderful film for the family. Indeed the basic theme of the film in regards to finding who you are is one that I feel most definitely one that younger movie goers should learn. Yes Gonzo is trying to find beings just like him, but in finding beings that look like him on the outside, he is able to better comprehend just who he is internally to say nothing garner a better respect for his Muppet friends who basically are his family by this point. Suffice it to say this slice of cinematic pie’s narrative is one that possesses a eternally timeless message that is thankfully delivered with the humor and heart that the Muppets have always been known for bringing to the table.

Yet if there was one component to this slice of cinematic pie that is perhaps a bit more evident on a superficial level than it would’ve liked to admit is the fact that it has a surprisingly well-cast line up of human performers to play alongside the Muppets. Yes in all fairness the majority of them are only playing minor roles in the grand scheme of things, but every single one of them takes great delight in playing things as over the top as possible whilst still being able to brilliantly insert themselves into the general vibe of the movie. Suffice it to say that out of the human cast, Jeffrey Tambor has perhaps the biggest part followed by Andie MacDowell and then rounded out by a cast of cameo parts played by, amongst others, F. Murray Abraham, Hulk Hogan, Ray Liotta, Pat Hingle, Rob Schneider, and David Arquette who all make their own distinct stamp on the proceedings especially in some of the more iconic moments from the movie. Just as great tough is the fact that this movie is full to the brim with wonderful visuals and spot-on choices in the soundtrack department. Indeed be it moments set in outer space or the Biblical era, and music that will make you rock in your seat or just relax you with how smooth it is, the supporting components in this slice of cinematic pie not only magnifies the vibe of adventure present, but even more important, Gonzo’s personal journey in this film and everything that goes with that. Indeed whilst this movie will not make the water works flow let alone even give you a dreaded case of the sniffles, it is still able to conjure up quite a wonderfully satisfied feeling of spending time with the Muppets again on a journey that although not as grand as their odyssey to the Big Apple from awhile back is still nearly just as wonderful in every way.

All in all it might not get the same amount of love as the other movies in the Muppet pantheon, but I personally feel that Muppets from Space is a very well-put together slice of cinematic pie. No it might not be the proverbial best of the best when it comes to slices of cinematic pie starring the Muppets, and it most assuredly is not the first for a lot of people that is the one which right off the bat is the one that they think of when looking back on this entire collection of movies that by and large resembles a loose “series” of sorts. Having said all of that however, I do feel that Muppets from Space most assuredly also is fine for what it is even if it’s also a wee bit more low key cinematic fare that possesses enough in the way of cute characters, engaging action beats, and genuinely funny moments that it should completely placate its intended audience though it also doesn’t hurt to have all of the aforementioned ingredients also be wonderfully aided by thematic concepts that, although fairly obvious, are not only incredibly inserted into the overall mix, but also are ones that kids can breathe a sigh of relief knowing their parents will give their stamp of approval to. Ultimately, I guess the best thing though about this slice of cinematic pie is that this movie, like all of the other old-school Muppet films, is strengthened immeasurably by an unseen yet quite potent degree of heart and soul that so many animated films today just don’t seem to possess. I guess there is just some heartfelt aspect to real characters being portrayed on site by real individuals that all the phenomenal leaps forward in digital animation just can’t seem to match though in all fairness that is completely ok with me. Not only because that would be a scary day when that finally happens, but because it still gives me time to go back to movies like this from my childhood and just kick back and smile. On a scale of 1-5 I give Muppets from Space a solid 3 out of 5.