A Christmas review by R.J.Trivett
Okay, so Muppets from Space isn’t strictly a Christmas film and not necessarily something that you would associate with geek either. This review was going to be for A Muppets’ Christmas Carol, but as my hand reached for the dvd from the shelf, it… er… slipped. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Anyway, Muppets from Space was meant to be Christmas film, but Columbia Pictures wanted to release it early, so they did. And besides, it is Sci-fi… Sort of…
I have a soft spot for the Muppets, growing up with Sesame Street and the Muppets television show. And whilst I grew out of them, Frank Oz in Star Wars and the Dark Crystal, filled the void (and also links quite nicely into the world of geekiness). Muppets from Space also stands alone amongst all the other Muppet films and is in itself something of an oddball. Firstly, it is by far and away the most adult of the Muppet films. It is littered throughout with jokes and references that fly way over the heads of young ones. Or you hope they do. The action does not centre around Kermit either, but focuses on Gonzo and his origins. The other difference with this film from the standard Muppet fair is that, unlike all other Muppet films to date, it is not a musical. True, music does feature in the film, but it is secondary and is classic soul and funk. But songs like Celebration or Get Up Off O’ That Thing are not the normal “I’m a poor lonely frog” type that, as a rule, punctuates their films. Perhaps it is down to the writing from Jerry Juhl, Joey Mazzarino and Ken Kaufman, or maybe it is the direction from Tim Hill, but whatever the reason, for me, this is the jewel in the Muppet crown.
The film starts with a grand opening sequence, leaning heavily on a dramatic orchestration. It zooms in on Gonzo trying to get into Noah’s Ark and being turned away by Noah (F. Murray Abraham) as a one of a kind misfit. Gonzo awakens from his nightmare and accidentally catapults Rizzo the Rat out of the window. This then leads into the first of many gags. “Sorry Rizzo, I had that dream again” apologises Gonzo as he help Rizzo back through the window. “What?” asks Rizzo “The one with the goat, the dwarf, and the jar of peanut butter?”
The next scene is as close as it gets to a Muppet musical set piece in this film, with the Muppet household going through their morning ablutions, accompanied by “Brick House" by the Commodores. There are some nice vignettes here, Fozzie in the shower in full sou'wester gear, Animal getting blown away by a V-twin hairdryer, Rizzo using a rattrap as a multi-gym with a poster of “Mice Girls” on the wall, Beaker with a Q-tip going in one ear and out the other etc. etc. When breakfast finishes Miss Piggy rushes off to start her new job, and we get the first of several observations from the aged pair, Statler & Waldorf, “Has breakfast finished?” “No, why?” “I think the bacon just ran out!”
The view shifts to the bad-guys of the piece, C.O.V.N.E.T. and their secret headquarters disguised as a cement factory. This is a covert government organisation (think Men In Black), set up to watch for aliens, with its self-confessed paranoid, delusional psychopathic boss, K. Edgar “Ed” Singer (Jeffrey Tambor), and his bumbling assistant, Agent Rentro (Bobo the Bear). Ed is trying to persuade his superior, General Luft (Pat Hingle), that aliens are trying to contact someone on earth with the message “Are you there?” It doesn’t go well which only adds to Ed’s paranoia. “Platinum Buns” workout tape anyone?
The film is dotted with homages to many sci-fi films, “May the Fish be with you” and the mashed potato sculpture of Gonzo add a nice touch, as is the recreation of the alien in the lab from Independence Day. Then there is the use of the Star Trek theme and the obvious parallels with Close Encounters when the ship lands. There are others but you’ll have to look for yourself.
Many of the scenes have been written just to set up a throwaway gag. For instance, after Gonzo has been captured by C.O.V.N.E.T. Ed puts on a rubber glove and points a finger in the air and says to Gonzo, “May I?” To which Rizzo replies, “I think before you answer that question that you need to be real clear on the final destination of that finger.” Then there is the scene on the bus when Kermit pipes up “No matter what obstacles we face, we never forget one of our own.” Fozzie replies, “Hey, we just left Beaker and Bunsen at the gas station.” And Kermit comes back with “Okay, from this point on we never…” And I’ll just put in when Gonzo is on the operating table with the brain sucker on his head, he turns to Dr. Phil Van Neuter and says “Wait! Wait! Are you sure this is covered by my HMO?”
As with all Muppet films, there is a rich sprinkling of actors, besides those I have already mentioned there is Andie MacDowell, David Arquette, Josh Charles and even Hollywood Hogan. Yes, well… Anyway, there are loads of cameos and even some of the muppet performers make it on screen. Kathy Griffin makes a memorable appearance as a guard, and gets goosed by Animal.
I could go on and on about this film, there are so many memorable moments, but you probably think I have already. As a sci-fi film, Muppets from Space deserves a record in the annals of geekdom. As a true classic family film it deserves to be on every Christmas, it is oh so much more entertaining than The Wizard of Oz. Happy Geekmas to all, and to all a Happy Geekmas, and may the fish be with you.
R.J.Trivett (Rick) is the writer of comic fantasy series the Lyonnesse Tales. www.lyonnessetales.com He hasn’t been able to give up the day-job yet, whatever it is, but lives in high hopes. When not reading, writing or watching a boxset, he tours around the UK and Europe on a motorcycle looking for interesting roads and sampling the local equivalent of beer