"The Muppets" Creators Bring Its Magic To A New Generation
Jason Segel is a self-proclaimed “super weird puppet guy.” Not only did he grow up watching "The Muppets," he also ended his 2008 film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" with a Dracula puppet musical featuring puppets designed by The Jim Henson Company.
“I love them. I think they’re wonderful things,” explained Segel of his passion for puppets.
And after waiting 12 years since the last "Muppet" movie, the actor, director and writer knew it was time to bridge the generation gap with "The Muppets," which hits theaters Nov. 23.
“It seemed like it was time,” said Segel, who co-wrote the film with Nick Stoller. “We’ve arrived in a very cynical stage of comedy, and the Muppets’ style of comedy is so pure and so kind that I felt like it’s important that kids have that influence in their lives.”
In revamping the "Muppets" franchise, the filmmakers knew the importance of keeping Jim Henson’s original vision and the Muppets traditions alive, while also engaging the next generation of audiences in a relevant way.
“I think this film is about the Muppet philosophy, that general sense they give of optimism and innocence,” said James Bobin, who made his directorial feature debut on the film. He said that the film’s villain, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), represents the wealth-obsessed modern world.
Facing such a strong legacy, the producers knew it would be a challenge to introduce new elements to the film, including the creation of an original Muppet character named Walter.
“We had to get it right,” said producer David Hoberman. “’How tall is he? What color is his felt gonna be? Does he have ears?’ All of it.”
For these filmmakers, the puppets took center stage. Miss Piggy said she believes the human actors – namely Amy Adams and Segel, who play sincere couple Mary and Gary – were secondary to the larger-than-life Muppets.
“They do some of the best background work I have ever seen,” she said at the junket Monday.
And Hoberman agrees.
“The magic of this movie are the puppeteers and the puppets,” he said. “You don’t really need anything else when you’ve got those performers.”
Because of the key role that the Muppets themselves play in the film, there were no CGI effects used to enhance or replace the use of real puppets.
“For a kid, these characters exist in our world,” said Segel. “You see them interacting with humans. And you could meet Kermit; you could touch him. But you’ll never meet Shrek. He lives in a computer.”
The film also continues the Muppets traditions of breaking the fourth wall, as well as using physical comedy and featuring cameo performances by celebrities.
“I think the Muppets, people just love them,” said Stoller. “Especially comedians. If you go to Jack Black or Zack Galifianakis or Sarah Silverman, they all grew up with the Muppets. They revere the Muppets.” All three made guest appearances in the film.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Muppets flick without a reprise of iconic songs like “The Rainbow Connection” and “Mahna Mahna,” but the film also features original music - supervised by Flight of the Concords actor Bret McKenzie - including a rap by Tex Richman.
“I felt like we tricked everybody,” said Segel. “Academy Award winner Chris Cooper is dancing and rapping.”
But while the film attempts to appeal to a broad audience of children and adults, it’s clear that you can’t please everyone. Segel recalled how, after the first screening of the film for an audience of kids, one child filled out a particularly opinionated comment card.
The seven-year-old boy said his favorite part of the movie was the Muppets, and he liked that they were funny. But what aspect of the film didn’t he like? Gary’s face. The comment card was later framed and given to Segel as a gift.
“It’s like my favorite possession of all time,” said Segel.
Still, Segel and the others who spearheaded the project remain hopeful that this adaptation will strike a chord with longtime fans and newcomers alike.
“Everyone knew that there was a chance that this would be a lasting, iconic piece of work that they’d be really proud to be a part of,” he said. “And I hope that turns out to be true.”
Reach reporter Elizabeth Johnson here.
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