Have a fur ball

Movie: Muppets From Space

Our Rating: 3.50

"Muppets From Space," the sixth big-screen effort starring those lovable escapees from "Sesame Street," shares traits with its summer-movie competition. Like Tarzan it's driven by a character's identity crisis. Plot details have been kept shrouded in secrecy, a la "Eyes Wide Shut." And it concerns goings-on in a galaxy far, far away, similar to George Lucas' little gift to theater owners everywhere.

Luckily, it lacks the crudity and rudeness of several films whose very posters have led even toddlers -- including my 3-year-old son -- to beg to see South Park and Big Daddy. Say yes to "Muppets From Space" and be pleasantly surprised by a silly romp that may be just as fun for the younger set as it is for anyone with a nostalgic craving for the antics of the sophisticated puppets.

Gonzo the Great is the tortured lost soul of the new flick, the feature-film debut of director Tim Hill. (The producer is Brian Henson, son of the Muppets' late creator Jim.) Gonzo, a bird-meets-bear (or something) character with a long, curved beak, is plagued by a telling biblical dream: Noah (F. Murray Abraham) refuses to let the guy board the ark because he's the only one of his species. "What are you, anyway?" bellows the long-bearded prophet.

Then our addled hero is the recipient of messages from beyond. His alphabet cereal rearranges itself into a commandment, "watch the sky," and then a question, "r u there?"

At the home he shares with a menagerie of beasts and men, Gonzo is ridiculed by Rizzo the Rat, Pepe the Prawn, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Dr. Teeth and Miss Piggy, who's determined to steal the job of TV-station co-worker Shelley Snipes (Andie MacDowell).

Meanwhile, the evil K. Edgar Singer (Jeffrey Tambor) of a top-secret security facility plots to find anyone who's communicating with aliens. Gonzo and Rizzo are captured; they escape with the help of their pals and some magical substances cooked up by basement scientists Bunsen and Beaker.

"Muppets From Space" is a basically fun, engaging story. Human actors include Rob Schneider, Ray Liotta, David Arquette, Pat Hingle and Hollywood Hogan. Screenwriter Jerry Juhl throws in smart references to "Field of Dreams," "Star Wars" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth," and he delivers jibes to UFO freaks and millennial fanatics.

Its greatest asset, though, may be its thumping, pumping soundtrack, a whiz-bang set of '70s funk tunes, including a spectacular production number of Kool & the Gang's "Celebration." With all this, who cares about some foul-mouthed animated Colorado kids?


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