Being adaptations of books, I found the preceding two muppet movies (Christmas Carol and Treasure Island) to be a bit too muppet-lite for me.
How refreshing then that this 1999 entry is such a return to form.
The muppets are playing themselves again, in the present day, and even all live in a big house together. Somehow there's a real rightness about that, even though it's not located on Sesame Street.
And it's not just the 'classic' characters who are represented here, but umpteen newer ones, including Clifford and several others from the then recent Muppets Tonight TV series.
The story's central hook - Gonzo's discovery of his alien ancestry - is perhaps a post-modern move too far for me. Because none of the muppet performers in the real world have ever been too sure what sort of animal Gonzo is supposed to be, I've always just accepted him at face value as well. However it's nice to recall that this confusion has been foreshadowed in at least one earlier movie in the series.
Further, the whole well-executed space storyline is really here because this was made in the sf-drenched 1990s. It's a very good call. Aliens and the imagination of the Henson Workshop have always been a marriage made in Heaven. (Farscape anyone?) So when Gonzo is struck by lightning and has an out-of-body experience in which he converses with a pair of giant floating fish, well, they're in their element.
For me, the only two cracks in the film's sheen are:
1. Gonzo's leaving his biological family forever, instead of taking a break to go visit them, and
2. the movie's human performances, which as usual are a bit hit and miss. Some actors get the muppet world, and others don't, but everyone does at least do their best.
In fact, if there's one impression that sums this film up for me, it's of a crowd of people really enjoying themselves. Almost every scene bursts with strong characters giving their all, and the line between script and improvisation has never appeared blurrier. These guys are fighting each other to be funniest, in a way that surely no sterilised prerecorded vocal track possibly can.
Welcome back everyone, I've missed you.