Muppets from Space is a 1999 American science fiction family comedy film produced by Columbia Pictures and Jim Henson Pictures. The sixth feature film to star The Muppets, it is the first film since the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson to have an original Muppet-focused plot, and is a deviation of other Muppet films as it is the only non-musical film. The film was directed by Tim Hill from a screenplay by Jerry Juhl, Joey Mazzarino, and Ken Kaufman, and stars Jeffrey Tambor, Pat Hingle, Rob Schneider, and Andie MacDowell, alongside Muppet performers Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Bill Barretta, and Frank Oz. In the film, Gonzoattempts to discover his origins after having nightmares. After he and Rizzo the Rat are captured by government officials during his search, Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppet gang must save them.
The film was released on July 14, 1999 by Sony Pictures Releasing. Alongside The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, it is the last Muppet feature film to have the involvement of Oz prior to his retirement from Muppet performing the following year. In addition, it is the last Muppet film written by Juhl prior to his death in 2005. The film was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina at EUE/Screen Gems in 1998.
Gonzo (voice of Dave Goelz) has always been identified as a "whatever"; but, after having disturbing dreams of abandonment and rejection, he begins to realize just how alone he is in the world. One of his nightmares involves his being denied entry by Noah (F. Murray Abraham) onto his ark. The next morning, Gonzo tells Kermit (voice of Steve Whitmire) that he is getting tired of being referred to as a "whatever." After an alien race appears to be trying to send him a strange mysterious message through his bowl of cereal, Gonzo realizes that he may not be so alone after all and later that evening, he climbs to the rooftop to watch the sky. Suddenly, he is struck by a bolt of lightning, which allows him to communicate with a pair of cosmic knowledge fish, who reveal his origins as an alien from outer space.
Unable to convince Kermit and his friends of the aliens' existence, Gonzo is lured by Agent Barker (Josh Charles) into the clutches of K. Edgar Singer (Jeffrey Tambor) of C.O.V.N.E.T., a government organization disguised as a cement factory. Singer is aware of the aliens' attempts to communicate and thinks that Gonzo is the key to convincing his superiors that aliens do exist. Gonzo and Rizzo (Whitmire) are taken to C.O.V.N.E.T. by Agent Barker. Rizzo's antics cause himself to be flushed down a tube by wrestling legend Hulk Hogan and ends up having to go through C.O.V.N.E.T.'s rat training and medical research held by Dr. Tucker (David Arquette), alongside other Muppet rats. After Miss Piggy (Oz) interrogates Barker, she, Kermit, Fozzie (voice of Frank Oz), Pepe (voice of Bill Barretta), and Animal (Oz) go to rescue Gonzo and Rizzo from C.O.V.N.E.T., using inventions from Bunsen (Goelz) and Beaker (Whitmire) such as a door in a jar, a rubber duck that emits temporary invisibility spray, and mind control gas.
An alien channeling his voice through a sandwich (Henson) asks Gonzo where the alien ship can land, and Gonzo suggests a beach known by the name of Cape Doom, unaware that Singer's assistant Agent Rentro Bobo the Bear (Barretta) is listening. The gang arrives at the military base to rescue Gonzo and Rizzo. They use the invisibility spray to enter but when Fozzie washes his hands upon exiting a restroom it wears off, attracting the attention of a female guard who Animal chases away. Meanwhile, Rizzo frees Gonzo from the dissection table while the other rats attack Dr. Phil Van Neuter (voice of Brian Henson), which is witnessed by Singer and General Luft (Pat Hingle). Luft feels that his time has been wasted and leaves angry. Upon discovering from Rentro that Gonzo is heading for Cape Doom, Singer prepares the Subatomic Neutro-Destabilizer to use on the aliens. Rentro tells Singer that his car has been impounded because of unpaid parking tickets; they use the company car—a cement truck.
The Muppets rescue Gonzo then go to Cape Doom where a crowd of alien-happy spectators await their arrival. The ship comes to Earth and the aliens, who all resemble Gonzo, explain that many years ago they lost him but now welcome him back into the fold. Singer shows up and tries to kill the aliens, ultimately failing to do so (Rentro removed the Subatomic Neutro-Destabilizer's battery) and is laughed at. Gonzo considers going into space with his long-lost family but chooses to stay with his fellow Muppet Show cast-mates. Singer is invited by the aliens to go with them and leaves as Earth's ambassador.
As the Muppets are watching the stars from the roof, Gonzo tells Kermit he wonders why his family asked him to build a Jacuzzi. Pepe chuckles, because he and Rizzo had pretended to be them and asked him to do it.
- Jeffrey Tambor as K. Edgar "Ed" Singer, the head of C.O.V.N.E.T.
- Pat Hingle as General Luft, a military official who K. Edgar Singer reports to.
- Rob Schneider as the TV producer of UFO Mania.
- Andie MacDowell as Shelley Snipes, a UFO Mania anchorwoman.
- Gary Owens as UFO Mania Announcer (voice)
- Dave Goelz as The Great Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef and Birdman
- Steve Whitmire as Rizzo the Rat, Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Bean Bunny and Cosmic Fish #1
- Bill Barretta as Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear, Johnny Fiama, Bubba the Rat, Cosmic Fish #2 and Rowlf the Dog
- Jerry Nelson as Robin, Statler, Floyd Pepper and Ubergonzo
- Brian Henson as Dr. Phil Van Neuter, Sal Minella and Talking Sandwich
- Kevin Clash as Clifford and Carter
- Frank Oz as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal and Sam Eagle
- Adam Hunt as Scooter
- John Henson as Sweetums
- John Kennedy as Dr. Teeth
Due to scheduling conflicts, Oz only provides the voices for his characters; on-set puppetry was provided predominantly by Peter Linz (Miss Piggy) John Kennedy (Fozzie Bear and Sam Eagle), and Rickey Boyd (Animal). In addition, Whitmire, Boyd, Kennedy, Linz, and Drew Massey made on-screen cameos as hippies at Cape Doom.
- F. Murray Abraham as Noah
- David Arquette as Dr. Tucker, a sadistic scientist that works at C.O.V.N.E.T. and is in charge of the medical research that involves the rats
- Josh Charles as Agent Barker, an operative of C.O.V.N.E.T.
- Kathy Griffin as a female armed guard of C.O.V.N.E.T.
- Hollywood Hogan as himself, an operative of C.O.V.N.E.T.
- Ray Liotta as the gate guard at C.O.V.N.E.T.
- Joshua Jackson as Pacey Witter, a character from Dawson's Creek
- Katie Holmes as Joey Potter, a character from Dawson's Creek
For the second time since Muppet Treasure Island, Frank Oz was not available for most of the film's production. As a result, his characters were performed on set by other Muppet performers, with Oz later looping his voice in post production. For most of the filming, Peter Linz, John Kennedy, and Rickey Boyd performed his characters. Their voices can be heard in several scenes used in the film's theatrical trailer, as well as the blooper reel on the DVD.
Muppets from Space would mark the first appearance of Scooter since Muppet*Vision 3D (1991). He was voiced by Adam Hunt, the brother of Scooter's initial performer Richard Hunt.
The film's visual effects were provided by Illusion Arts.
An earlier draft of the story was written by Kirk Thatcher called Muppets in Space. In the screenplay, aliens abducted Kermit because they believed him to be their leader, leading the other Muppets to attempt to save him. A set of Welch's Jelly Glasses were produced based around this theme.According to the production notes featured on the DVD, the film was inspired by Gonzo's song in The Muppet Movie (1979), "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday".
In a 2009 interview, co-writer Joey Mazzarino revealed that he left the project before shooting started, due to changes made to his draft. According to Mazzarino, Randal Kleiser was selected to direct the film, and that his draft included parodies of Men in Black, Contact and Alien. However, shortly before shooting began, The Jim Henson Company fired Kleiser from the project, with Mazzarino subsequently hiring Tim Hill as the new director of Muppets from Space, and most of the parodies from his draft were removed.
Mazzarino also disliked the revised ending of the film, and explained that in his draft Gonzo did not turn out to be an alien. Instead, the aliens were getting signals from episodes of The Muppet Show and made themselves to look like Gonzo as they considered him to be the "ultimate being". In the end, they would reveal their hideous forms, and Gonzo would remain a "whatever", with his true family being the Muppets.
Muppets from Space was the first Henson musical film to not feature original music, opting instead for a soundtrack consisting primarily of classic soul and funk tracks.
Some tracks were remade by contemporary artists, such as "Shining Star" by the Dust Brothers featuring Jeymes, and "Dazz" by G. Love and Special Sauce, recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound in Sheffield, Alabama. The band was in the studio recording with Little Milton on the "Welcome To Little Milton" record. The band got a call from Jason Brown, their manager, while in the studio, to record a song for the movie. Will McFarlane, who was a Shoals/Malaco studio regular, and former Bonnie Raitt guitarist, played with the band on the song. Parliament's"Flash Light" was updated by George Clinton as a duet with Pepe the King Prawnnamed "Flash Light (Spaceflight)".
Two soundtracks were released featuring music from the film. One was an album containing the classic soul and funk tracks, while the other was an album containing the film's score. The film's score was composed by Jamshied Sharifiwith additional work by Rupert Gregson-Williams and was released by Varèse Sarabande.
Earlier drafts of the film contained original music, including the song "Eye 2 the Sky", written and recorded by Ween, which was not included on the soundtrack. This song was intended to be sung by Gonzo. Dave Goelz had also recorded a new rendition of "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" for this film, a song which had originally appeared in The Muppet Movie. This song was also dropped but was included on the Muppets from Space soundtrack, also sung by Gonzo.
Muppets from Space grossed $22.3 million worldwide against its $24 million budget.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 63% based on 56 reviews. The site's consensus reads "If Muppets from Space lacks the magic and wit of its cinematic predecessors, this pleasingly silly space romp is funny and clever enough to make for better-than-average family entertainment."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a two-star rating (out of four) and concluded his review by saying that "maybe Muppets from Space is just not very good, and they'll make a comeback. I hope so. Because I just don't seem to care much anymore." Conversely, Robin Rauzi of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, stating that "twenty years after The Muppet Movie and 30 after the beginning of Sesame Street, there is still life in these creations of felt, foam rubber and fake fur. With care, they will easily entertain and educate a third or fourth generation of children. The magic is back."
In a 2000 interview, Frank Oz described the film as not "up to what it should have been," and "not the movie that we wanted it to be."