The world's most lovable carpet sample makes his silver-screen debut in "Elmo in Grouchland," a peppy caper co-starring all of his Sesame Street-wise friends. Though he's only 3 1/2 years old in Muppet years, the red-pelted tyke brings a veteran's chops to this warm and witty musical adventure.

Elmo's journey begins when Oscar mistakes his friend's beloved blue blanket for a tissue, sneezes into it and tosses it into his trash can. The little hero climbs in to get his blankie and is sucked through a tunnel into a topsy-turvy country where stinky stuff smells good and garbage is more precious than, um, the last Tickle Me Elmo doll a couple of Christmases ago.

Alas, the resident villain, Huxley (Mandy Patinkin, suitably silly in a scenery-chewing turn), steals Elmo's "wooby"--his word for the blanket--thus forcing the littlest Muppet on a perilous quest to retrieve it. With help from his kooky minions, the Pesties, Huxley manages to throw Elmo off the track again and again.

If you think it isn't easy being green, Elmo soon discovers that it's no picnic being red, either. But with a helpful push from some friendly singing plants, he courageously presses on.

Of course, there's a lesson in that. As expected, this sweet little tale is as informative as it is entertaining for its target audience, the very youngest of the Muppet franchise's fans. The Muppeteers, led by director Gary Halvorson, bend over backward to make the movie toddler-friendly, which should keep squirming to a minimum.

Bert and Ernie, who introduce the movie and act as narrators, encourage the audience to sing along with the rousing musical numbers and to clap for Elmo--a la Tinker Bell--when the situation seems especially dire. Periodically, they also stop the projector to reassure everyone that Elmo is okay.

Ernie adds the most persuasive comment of all: "Who would want to go to a movie without a happy ending?"

Elmo in Grouchland (77 minutes, at area theaters) is rated G.

CAPTION: The Muppets' redhead smells like a rose in "Elmo in Grouchland."