'One of the best G-rated pictures in years'

A couple of years ago, when "The Muppet Movie" came out, some feminists complained that the main character, Miss Piggy, was a mere sexist stereotype. This was silly, since she was the most appealing character in the entire film, not to mention being the most popular muppet of all. Perhaps the complainers were indulging in a "species-ism" of their own -- by assuming that Miss Piggy is automatically less attractive than Kermit the Frog, just because she's porcine.

Now there's a sequel called The Great Muppet Caper, and like the first Muppet movie, it's one of the best G-rated pictures in years, for all ages and genders. Oh, is has flat spots, and a few touches we might not have chosen if we were the executive producer. But on balance it's a delicious romp with a mischievous wit that should appeal to just about every open-minded child or adult.

Diana Rigg plays a high- fashion magnate whose jewels keep getting stolen. Kermit and some cohorts fly to London (ninth class) to solve the case. As in the other Muppet picture, the plot is Pirandellian, with characters talking to the audience, commenting on the story, complaining about the credits, and quite refusing to follow the rules. Human beings and puppets intermix freely. "What are you doing here?" says Peter Ustinov to the Cookie Monster. "A brief cameo," says CM. "Me too," says Ustinov.

Other people include Peter Falk, John Cleese, and Robert Morley.Also on board is Charles Grodin, who falls battily in love with Miss Piggy. But she prefers the equally smitten Kermit and doesn't hesitate to let Grodin know it. "You can't even sing!" she shrieks at him after a big production number. "Your voice was dubbed!"

In that production number, by the way, Miss Piggy does her splendid imitation of Esther Williams, accompanied by a whole corps de ballet and a sound track right out of some late-night-TV musical. Mountains of credit to director and Muppet-master Jim Henson for pulling off such wondrous conceits and giving grown-ups as much to laugh about as their kids.

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