THE MUPPETS Interview: Writer/Star Jason Segel, Director James Bobin, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and More
A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to attend a press conference at the Beverly Hills Hilton for Disney's The Muppets. Reviews are under embargo until November 18th, but suffice it to say that if you're a Muppet fan, you have nothing to worry about with this entry into the franchise. Director James Bobin, writer/star Jason Segel, co-writer Nicholas Stoller, music supervisor Bret McKenzie, Amy Adams, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and new Muppet Walter took questions from the press and talked about their upcoming film, slated to hit theaters on November 23rd.
It's been twelve years since we've seen the Muppets in theaters, and the vampire puppet show in Jason Segel and Nick Stoller's Forgetting Sarah Marshall was enough to get the guys a pitch session at Disney for a new take on Kermit and Company. Segel spoke about the challenges of making a Muppet movie for all ages:
One of the important things about the movie - part of the witch's brew that we had to try to balance - was we wanted a fair amount of nostalgia for our generation who grew up with the Muppets, but we also have to acknowledge that there's a generation of kids who are just being introduced to the Muppets. If it had just been a nostalgia-fest, it really wouldn't have meant anything to kids who didn't experience it the first go around. So we have a really healthy mix of old songs and then new songs written by Bret McKenzie that are, in my opinion, just right in the spirit of the Muppets. He really found the wheelhouse. In my opinion, Flight of the Conchords (McKenzie's HBO show) is very Muppety on its own. It's about two kind of wide-eyed innocents making their way through tough New York who are never mean to anyone, and it's very much how I feel about The Muppets, so it was a great union of styles.
McKenzie and director James Bobin worked extensively on Flight of the Conchords, and they spoke about coming from that show and transitioning into the realm of the Muppets.
"For me, going from Conchords to Muppets felt very...doing the same job, basically," Bobin said. "Conchords is a world whereby everyone has a slightly weird worldview. And they're all - "
"Stupid," interrupted McKenzie, jokingly.
"- a group of fools, maybe," Bobin continued, laughing. "And the Muppets have a similar sense, they're all very optimistic, they're all kind of inherent failures. They're not good at what they do. And I love that about it because you instantly feel for the underdog. And I thought that was a very similar thing between Conchords and Muppets, a very similar tone in that sense. But also, obviously the music and the sort of innocent charm of the comedy. I felt the comedy was very similar. [It was] a very natural progression."
McKenzie wrote three original songs for the film, and they're all a perfect fit for the Muppet world. He talked specifically about combining music with comedy:
In order for a comedy song to work, you can't have too much production in a way, because if it goes too big, you lose some of the comedy. So within The Muppets film, it gets big, but then it also strips it right back down...it wasn't that dissimilar in terms of using music and comedy at the same time. Using music to support the joke, or taking the music away so that the joke hits harder.
I asked Jason Segel if there was a particular Muppet film that inspired him more than others during the writing process of this film, and I was thrilled with his answer because it mentions all three movies we discussed in a recent episode of The Not Just New Movies Podcast.
The first three are the ones that I grew up on, and I think there's something about them that's lodged in my brain. The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan, and they each influenced it a little bit. I kind of borrowed one of my favorite jokes from The Great Muppet Caper in terms of, you know, Walter and I are brothers, and we don't really feel the need to explain it. Just like in that movie they never explain how Kermit and Fozzie Bear are identical twins. Growing up, I thought that was one of the funniest jokes I'd ever heard. And then yeah, the idea of, you know, in Manhattan Melodies, they're putting on a show in The Muppets Take Manhattan, and that was part of the “putting on a show” element, and then meeting the gang along the way came very much from the original Muppet Movie. So it really is a sort of mix and paying homage to those three films.
Segel also talked about the influence the Muppets had on him growing up:
When you're a kid, Muppets are sort of the entryway into comedy. They lead in to harder comedy: Monty Python, Saturday Night Live. The Muppets sort of defined who I wanted to be as a comedian as a kid. Kermit's like the original Tom Hanks when you're a kid, or Jimmy Stewart, or something. I sort of modeled my career after Kermit and rest of the Muppets.
Co-writer Nick Stoller also chimed in on this topic:
I also think from a practical standpoint, there probably wouldn't be the Simpsons, there probably wouldn't be Pixar, some of the Pixar movies, you know? I think that [The Muppets] started a kind of comedy that breaks the fourth wall and is also really heartfelt and really witty and also has big slapsticky things. I think that they laid the groundwork, really, for a lot of comedy that's really popular.
Miss Piggy got in on the action, too, talking about her on-set behavior during filming:
Segel: As for Piggy's part, she wanted it bigger, I'm not going to lie to you. She wanted a very strange credit sequence where we all would be introduced, and then it would say, “And Miss Piggy,” but then that would just stay on for the entire movie.
Miss Piggy: I saw nothing wrong with that. I did not demand any rewrites. I want to go on record. But that's probably just because I didn't really read the script. (Everyone laughs.) I'd just show up to set and people would say their lines and I would just say whatever comes into my head.
And finally, Segel spoke about the potential future of the franchise:
The goal was to set the stage for the Muppets to take the torch and do a million more movies and TV shows, so hopefully we accomplish that.
I'd love to see the Muppets return to television and as long as Segel and Stoller are writing them, I'll watch as many Muppet adventures as they can produce. The Muppets is in theaters just in time for Thanksgiving on November 23rd, 2011.
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