'Muppets Take Manhattan' - delightfully'

So a G rating means a movie is just for kids? Nonsense. I had more fun at ''The Muppets Take Manhattan'' than at any other picture this summer. A blend of ''Gremlins'' and ''42nd Street,'' it's a sly and silly delight.

It seems Kermit the Frog has written a show called ''Manhattan Melodies,'' and he thinks it could be a Broadway hit. So he and his pals travel to the Big Apple, set up housekeeping in a block of lockers at the bus depot, and make the rounds of New York producers. They get rejected, conned, and ignored, and most of the gang gives up. Kermit keeps on plugging, though, and the end is as happy as it is preposterous.

For kids, most of the fun will come from watching the Muppets go through their usual paces. Grown-ups will recognize the story line - you half expect to see Mickey Rooney pop up and say, ''Let's put on a show in the barn!'' - but there are enough unexpected sight gags and punch lines to keep things bright and surprising.

And certainly the isle of Manhattan has never been captured quite this way before; it's worth the price of admission just to watch Miss Piggy demolish three male-chauvinist construction workers and a Central Park mugger. I know she's a sore point with some feminists, who consider her an unflattering female caricature, but after this movie I feel more strongly than ever that she's the most interesting Muppet of all, and in some ways the strongest. Note also that the human cast avoids race and gender stereotypes more carefully than many of today's films.

As directed by Frank Oz and written by him with Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, the action is swift and colorful, bogging down only a little during some of the songs. Sharp-eyed viewers can spot cameos by celebs ranging from Liza Minnelli to the mayor of New York himself. It's a refreshing summer treat; given most of the current competition, I'll take ''Manhattan'' anytime. And where else can you hear a chorus of chickens do their impression of Tony Bennett singing the ''William Tell'' Overture?

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