Rated G - Running Time: 1:28 - Released 7/14/99

Ever since The Muppet Movie (1979), the first feature film starring Jim Henson's muppets of Sesame Street fame, there has been a running gag about just what Gonzo is. Gonzo (voice of Dave Goelz), a blue, hook-nosed character with a high, raspy voice and a weakness for chickens and explosives, has become one of Kermit the Frog's best friends and a principal character in every muppet feature, but he doesn't seem to be readily recognizable as any Earthly species. Nor has he ever found any of his own kind, and it's not as if he hasn't been trying. Finally, in Muppets From Space, the sixth film to feature the now-famous felt-skinned crowd, we learn of Gonzo's origins. Gonzo is an alien.

Muppets From Space, written by Jerry Juhl and Joey Mazzarino, and directed by Tim Hill, fully upholds the late Henson's tradition of family entertainment, featuring not only a fun story for the kids, but tons of subtle humor aimed at Mom and Dad. The characterizations of the various creatures, performed by a handful of regular muppet actors, are paired hilariously with numerious cameo appearances by celebrities such as F. Murray Abraham, Andie MacDowell, and Ray Liotta.

Depressed about his unknown heritage and recovering from a disturbing dream in which Noah refuses him passage on the ark because there's only one of him, Gonzo sees a message in his Cap'n Alphabet breakfast cereal. Obeying the cereal's suggestion to "watch the sky," he decides to facilitate the search by making his presence known. He mows the lawn into the message "I AM HERE." Unfortunately, this message is seen via satellite by COVNET, an extra-terrestrial watchdog agency headed by a power-crazy paranoid named K. Edgar Singer (Jeffrey Tambor).

Two agents (bearing a striking resemblance to the Men In Black) kidnap Gonzo and bring him to COVNET headquarters so that he may be probed for information about an impending alien visit. But when he pleads ignorance, Singer's methods turn ugly, so our muppet friends must embark on a mission to save him.

Headed as usual by Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire), the small group of cloth-eared commandos include Gonzo's roommate Rizzo the Rat (also Whitmire), Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz), Pepe the Prawn (Bill Barretta), Animal (Oz), and Miss Piggy (also Oz), who is really just in it for the story, to further her career as a respected journalist. Aided by several quasi-magical potions concocted by scientist-in-residence Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (Goelz), the group finds its way into the agency and mayhem, as usual, ensues.

Like all of its predecessors, the basis for the appeal of Muppets From Space may depend on whom you ask. The kids will like the silly plot and slapstick comedy, but the diverse characterizations are what won me over. Barretta's speech patterns for Pepe the Prawn, who I can only assume is a Cajun crustacean, are priceless; Pepe's use of the word "okay" at the end of every sentence is hysterical. Also a treat is the halting delivery of Clifford (Kevin Clash), a friendly bear who serves as Singer's assistant but whose heart really isn't into the whole evil domination thing. The final sequence, featuring a full-scale alien visitation not unlike the one in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, is spectacular, and the all-funk soundtrack is an interesting (and excellent) choice, implying the hipness of Gonzo's ancestral roots.

Now only one question remains: What is Animal? ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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