It's no accident that the word "great" appears in the title of the new film featuring Jim Henson's felt television puppets. "The Great Muppet Caper." Like its predecessor, this film is its own best fan.

"What a fantastic beginning!" "It's going to be terrific!" "What a great number!"

These comments were not made by members of the audience, and do not reflect the opinions of this viewer. They, and many like them, are the dialogue of the picture. It opens with the characters pointing out the cleverness of the background to the film credits, and closes with the declaration that this movie is "one for everyone."

These fans have even incorporated anticipated complaints into the film, thus declaring its drawbacks to be lovable. When the lines are clumsy, a character explains that she has to say what she does because "it's plot exposition, and it has to go somewhere." When even the popular Miss Piggy's act gets too tiresome, Kermit the Frog accuses her of overacting, listens to her spirited defense, and then suggests that we "get back to the movie."

Twice the film breaks out of this self-scrutiny to enable its cast to perform standard show numbers from moviedom's past -- the white-tie-and-tails chorus dance and the acquatic ballet, which have been re-created and parodied so much lately. These are nevertheless well done, which is more than one can say of the sloppy pastiche of movie plots -- "Front Page," jewel robbery, high society -- that occasionally interrupts the talk-show theme.

But the film will not lack for appreciation. It has rendered an audience superfluous.

THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER -- At the AMC Academy, AMC Skyline, Avalon, K-B Bethesda. Roth's Parkway, Springfield Mall, Village Mall and Wheaton Plaza.