The Set of 400: #279 – My Favorite Talking Sandwich

Today! Because you go ahead and eat me now, you’re gonna need the energy –

Muppets From Space (1999)

Directed by Tim Hill

Starring Dave Goelz (x2), Steve Whitmire (x2), Bill Barretta (x2), Frank Oz (x3), Jerry Nelson (x2), Brian Henson, Kevin Clash (x2), Jeffrey Tambor, Josh Charles, Andie MacDowell, David Arquette, F. Murray Abraham, Ray Liotta (x2), Pat Hingle, Kathy Griffin, Rob Schneider, Hulk Hogan (x3), Katie Holmes (x2), Joshua Jackson, Gary Owens

Often referred to as the first big screen Muppet film where Kermit wasn’t the lead, Muppets From Space is actually the third in the ’90s trilogy of post-Jim Henson films where Gonzo is the unquestioned star, following his roles as Charles Dickens in virtually every scene of The Muppet Christmas Carol and as Jim Hawkins’ boon companion, er, Gonzo in Muppet Treasure Island. This is, to date, the only original Muppet feature where Kermit doesn’t nominally star, though, that’s true.

This was also the only theatrical Muppet film released between 1996 and 2011, and as such, it serves as an interesting keystone – wrapping up the entire early history of the franchise with the characters playing themselves, signaling the end of the Jim Henson/Frank Oz era of features, and introducing the Muppets Tonight characters into the film family for the first time. Most of them would be roundly discarded by the time the reboot of the ’10s came around (even fan favorite Pepe), and so this is likely the only film where these eras of Muppets will appear together.

We honor you, Pepe!

And it’s not a bad little adventure they go on. Harkening back to the main human protagonist days of The Muppet Movie/Great Muppet Caper, this one pits Gonzo recently discovering he’s a legitimate alien from outer space (as opposed to a ‘Whatever,’ as often cited) against Jeffrey Tambor’s shady government figure looking for extraterrestrial life, by any ruthless means. There’s also a crazy subplot with Miss Piggy as an aspiring news anchor which ties in nicely to the newsworthy goings on with Gonzo. Really, Kermit is just sort of around – leading a mission to rescue Gonzo at one point, sure, but relegated to an extreme supporting position, along with Animal, Fozzie, Rizzo, and the rest.

This was also the era where a number of old Jim Henson characters were barely in use, so we only get fleeting glimpses of Dr. Teeth (and the rest of the Electric Mayhem for that matter, excepting Animal) and Rowlf. These gaps are taken up by some jokes tossed Clifford’s way, as well as Johnny Fiama and Sal, and Pepe, who makes the most of his lone major role. He would factor into the TV movies more, co-starring in It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, but he gets like two lines in 2011’s The Muppets. I love that movie, but that was a poor choice, folks. The Muppets Tonight characters were fine!

Like seasons 4 & 5 of The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonight has never been on DVD. Come on!

Overall, sure, this has gotten punched way down the list of Muppet films – it’s at the bottom of the originals, anyway – but that’s not to say it’s a particularly weak film. Lots of decent Muppet Labs gags, some wacky dream sequences and hallucinations, loads of B star cameos, including some future repeaters like David Arquette and Ray Liotta – it’s pretty underrated in the series.

But it naturally received no awards – this was the first Muppet film with no original songs! – so let’s try to correct history’s mistakes a little bit. Best Cohabitation of the Dawson’s Creek Universe, maybe? It’s pretty weird that Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson turn up as Joey and Pacey, right? They exist in the Feltapalooza-verse, do they? I would’ve watched a lot more Dawson’s Creek if Bunsen Honeydew guest-starred now and then!

The whole puppeteering crew from #312 Muppet Treasure Island makes the Two-Timers list – Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Jerry Nelson, Kevin Clash, and Steve Whitmire, as well as Three-Timer Frank Oz, adding his Yoda-ing in #332’s The Phantom Menace. We also make Two-Timers out of Liotta, for his cameo as honey maven Ray Liotta in #385 Bee Movie, and Holmes, for her role in #397 Wonder Boys.

Holmes and Liotta also appeared together in some Channing Tatum/Al Pacino cop thing The Son of No One – this was from a Q&A for it, I think?

Coming Monday! The last time I saw this face was July 4th, 1969. I am very sure that’s the man who shot me –

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