One month after Muppet Treasure Island, the Muppets brought a new show to television, Muppets Tonight (Jim Henson Productions, 1996-1998). It was a sort of updated version of The Muppet Show, but…it was bad. Very bad. It didn’t feel like a Muppet show, and the main Muppets we all know and love (Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Piggy) took a backseat to new Muppets who we can’t even name today…with the exception of a few. This introduced a dark time for the Muppets when their productions were…not very good. Mostly everything ranged from OK to HELP ME JESUS, HOW WAS THIS GREENLIT?!? I say most things because some of them were good. I hear Big Bag (Nina Elias-Bamberger, 1996-1998) was alright; I loved watching The Wubbulous World of Dr. Suess (1996-1997) as a kid; and Bear in the Big Blue House (Mitchell Kriegman, 1997-2007) was pretty popular among fans. But we also got Elmo Saves Christmas (Emily Squires, 1996) and Elmopalooza! (1998). But in the summer of 1999, it seemed as though the Muppets were due for another feature-length film. Enter Muppets from Space. This film came out during a time when a lot of sci-fi films were taking place. This was supposed to be the Muppets’ parody of that genre. By the sounds of that, this movie should be awesome, right?…Well, you’d think so. As a lot of you know, this movie is famous for being the worst Muppet movie ever made. Does it really deserve that title? Is it true? Well…let’s find out.
STORY: The story and the set-up are the most problematic elements of the movie. It just begs so many questions. First of all, who the crud wanted to know Gonzo’s species? Who was dying to know that? By the time this movie came out, Gonzo existed for over 30 years. That’s more than 30 years of us accepting him as a whatever. That’s his identity! That’s his character! We were all comfortable with that! We didn’t need to know his origins or his species! Second of all, this does, in all honesty, open the door for a mature set-up. Perhaps this could create some adult dialogue and situations with the Muppets. Gonzo wants to feel like he belong in a world where there’s only one of him – the conversations almost write themselves! So, what do we get here?…Gonzo is an alien…WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!? You choose to give us something a third grader could have thought of?!…I don’t even know what to say to that! Gonzo’s an alien. HUH?!?
As I said, this movie was supposed to be a parody to sci-fi movies. The problem with that is there doesn’t seem to be enough parody; and by enough, I mean none at all. This film seems to take itself way too seriously. We’re supposed to accept that Gonzo’s an alien. We’re supposed to believe there’s a government agency searching for Muppet extra terrestrials. Nothing in the film says that this is a parody or a joke. We’re just supposed to accept this story and that it exists within the Muppet universe.
It’s ironic that we’re supposed to take the story seriously because the script is a joke. The dialogue the characters speak is so strange. Listen to some of Edgar’s conversations with Rentro (Bobo the Bear). It’s too mature for children to understand, but it clashes with the story that is too juvenile for adults to take seriously. When Gonzo tells Kermit how he feels about being an alien, it sounds like a coming out speech. I can hear a closeted homosexual giving that same speech word for word.
I think the biggest problem is that this doesn’t feel like a Muppet movie. It feels like the Muppets attempting to make another kind of movie, a sci-fi/action-type of movie. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of films, but it doesn’t feel very Muppety. If you’re going to make a movie for the Muppets, make a legitimate Muppet movie! Even though I have problems with Muppet Treasure Island, it still feels like a Muppet movie. This does not. The story takes itself too seriously – it is too absorbed in the genre it was supposed to parody – to feel like a classic Muppet movie.
CHARACTERS AND CAMEOS: This should be interesting. In addition to talking about the main human stars and cameo guest stars, I’ll briefly address the new Muppets that appear in this film.
1) K. Edgar Singer – Edgar, like the story, is nothing new or interesting. He’s pretty dry. On paper, he’s as bland, boring, and dull as damp paper. However, Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of him makes this character so entertaining to watch! I love him! That is what a great actor or actress does: they take a person’s character out of the pages and breaths life into them! Tambor is not just a great comic, but he’s a wonderful actor as well. I love watching the choices he makes – the expressions he makes, both subtle and unsubtle. Tambor really does make this character and this movie a lot of fun!
2) General Luft – This character frustrates me. Not only is he boring, but he’s ignorant. Why wouldn’t he believe Singer’s reasonings that aliens are coming to earth? Even if he need more evidence, the proof he provided would have made me suspicious. I certainly would have thought, “Hmm. I should look into this more!” How in the world could the same message, “R U There,” show up all over the world as a practical joke? At least look into it more! Crud you, Luft! Crud you!
This film does continue the Muppet film tradition of having celebrity cameo guest stars…As a whole, they don’t work well. In a traditional Muppet movie, you can have random celebrities show up for no reason. It’s a joke. It’s a funny joke. You can do that! Here, the story is too serious to have a joke like that work. Hollywood Hulk Hogan appearing out of nowhere doesn’t make sense! Kathy Griffin shows up just to be Animal’s new girl toy for the day. We’ve also got Ray Liotta, Josh Charles, Gary Owens (who lends a voice cameo), F. Murray Abraham, David Arquette, Andie MacDowell, Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek, and Rob Schneider. You might call me crazy for this, but Schneider’s actually my favorite cameo in this movie. This is one of the few restrained and non-offensive roles he’s played. It’s actually rather nice to see him do something like this.
Some of the newer Muppets from Muppets Tonight appear in this film. We’ve got Johnny Fiama and Sal Minella, Dr. Phil Van Neuter, Bobo the Bear (as Rentro), and Pepé the King Prawn. All of these characters are played by Brian Henson and Bill Barretta. I won’t lie, I didn’t like any of the new characters on Muppets Tonight. They weren’t funny, they weren’t relatable, they weren’t interesting, they weren’t charming. For the most part they yelled and screamed all the time, and that was their character. The only new character on the show that had a full personality was Bobo – and even then, I didn’t like him on the show. I like him in everything else he’s in, including this movie, but that was not the show for him. The character I’m surprised by how big he became was Pepé. He had literally no personality on the show! How did he get such a big role in this movie?! How did people find him so likeable and fun?! I would have loved if people went that crazy over Clifford! Clifford was miscast as the host of Muppets Tonight, but I still love his character! He’s so cool! And Clifford originated on The Jim Henson Hour in 1989 – he existed while Jim Henson was alive! I wish we got more of Clifford today! He brings a different feel to the Muppets that they didn’t have before, a more urban coolness to him. I love it! I love him!…But I digress.
SONGS/MUSIC: The score composer of the film is Jamshied Sharifi. The song composer…is an unfulfilled role in this film. Yeah, there are no songs in this movie. Ain’t that strange! This Muppet movie does not have any songs in it! Why would the filmmakers produce and create a new Muppet film without including great Muppet songs! This goes back to what I said earlier: this film feels like the Muppets trying to make another kind of film, a sci-fi and adventure-type film. It doesn’t feel like a legitimate Muppet movie! What was the last Muppet production you saw that didn’t have any songs? Every straight-to-video production, television show, TV special, and movie the Muppets ever made all included songs. Muppet Babies had songs, and that was animated!
There are songs in this movie, but they’re not new and the Muppets don’t sing them. They’re neo-soul/funk/R&B songs from the 1970s. I don’t know how or why this genre of music fits with the sci-fi genre of film, but…I’m not going to lie, I like these songs! Your appreciation for the music in this movie is based on whether or not you like funk. Even though it doesn’t make sense to have this music in this Muppet sci-fi movie, I still love these songs! I love this tone and style the music is in. In fact, when I was a kid this film introduced me to great classics as “Flashlight,” “Brick House,” “Shining Star,” and the other songs that appear. I have a lot of fun listening to them. I actually can’t imagine a lot of the scenes in this movie without these songs.
I know there’s not much else to talk about and I can’t go through all of the songs in this movie, but here are notes on some of the musical moments.
1) Brick House: A lot of people have said that this is the best scene in the movie…Yeah, it is! If the Muppets were to live in the same house, this is pretty much how I’d imagine their mornings. This scene as a whole is the closest thing in this film to capturing the Muppet/Jim Henson spirit.
2) Celebration: This is the only time the Muppets sing in this film…unless you count Rizzo singing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song.
3) Shining Star: The Muppets have a music video! Not just a montage – a legit music video! That’s neat! I think the only other times we had ever seen a Muppet music video before this was on Sesame Street. That’s pretty cool.
PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this movie is really good if you pay close enough attention to it. In my opinion, it’s better than the puppetry in Muppet Treasure Island. The characters do simple human things that puppets cannot do on their own. Gonzo opens a drawer. Do you know how to get a puppet to do that while making it look simple and ordinary? Rizzo turns a key in the lawnmower. The Muppets open doors. There are penguins – full scaled penguins – diving into a bathtub. It looks so simple, but when you think about it you realize that the filmmakers and performers had to work very hard to make these actions look as realistic as possible. In the last Muppet movie, it sometimes looks like they’re trying to do something; the Muppets were trying to fight during the battle scene towards the end. Here, they’re just doing the actions as simple as anybody else can do it. I love that!
COMEDY: The comedy is OK. Often times, the jokes do not work. There are only 2 fourth wall jokes, and they’re not funny. You have to pay attention to them, or else you’ll miss them. However, when a joke does work it is very funny. Anytime the Muppets do or say anything that matches their unique spirit, the jokes are hilarious! Statler and Waldorf partake in their usual wise cracks, and they’re great! I like the silly and naive comments Fozzie makes (with the exception of him not knowing what scotch tape is). Sam’s short speech to the people on his front lawn is fantastic! And, of course, Bobo the Bear gives the funniest line in the movie!
It’s so odd and strange, but it’s so funny!
I can’t talk too much about the bad jokes because they don’t stand out as well as the good jokes. There are plenty of bad jokes, but the good ones are more memorable. As a whole, the comedy is OK. When something is done or said that matches the spirit of the Muppets, the jokes work well and they are absolutely funny!
CONCLUSION: OK, so you see that this movie has a lot of problems. The story is crap, the writing is weird, there are no original songs in this film, and the comedy is hit and miss. But there are good things about the movie as well. The puppetry is impressive, some of the jokes are really funny, and the Muppets still act like the Muppets. As a whole, this movie is OK. It’s not their best work, but it’s far from their worst. Believe me, the Muppets would go on to do much worse than this film. At least in this film, our characters still seem like themselves despite a faulty script. So long as Kermit is still himself and the rest of the Muppets are still themselves, I’m in a good place. Despite the problems this movie has, I still like it! I enjoy it a lot! The good stuff is more than likeable, and the bad stuff is fun to make fun of. If you don’t like this movie, I can understand why; the story and script are just too strange for the Muppets. However, it’s also understandable why you may like this movie. The Muppets are still the Muppets. They’re still entertaining, they’re still loveable, and they’re still relatable. Take it for what it is.