[ALL Images exclusive to Newsarama. Please do not reprint these images without a link to this story.]
By now you've seen the hysterical teaser trailers for The Muppets. You know your beloved childhood friends are back after eleven years, this time with writer and Executive Producer Jason Segel. Well, we were lucky enough to visit the set of the film a few months back and we've got some brand new info for you and some exclusive, never-before-seen pictures.
As soon as we got to the set in Burbank, CA on day 36 of the production, the first thing we noticed were multiple muppets lying under cloth drapes. We were told that no one gets to see a muppet lying on a table looking, well, dead. It seemed silly until we caught a glimpse of one. It was actually pretty traumatizing! This production is working with 150 muppets in total, almost all of them used in the final production number along Hollywood Blvd.
Creative Director Debbie McClellan gave us some facts about the production. Specially built platforms had to be made to hide the puppeteers, and quite a number of them. This production shot on location for two-thirds of the time. Shooting a walking muppet, and there are a few in this one, takes 4-5 people. They're even using some of the sets from the original show. The coolest moment of the entire day? We got to pose for a picture with Kermit and Piggy. After being told not to look at the puppeteers, I was positioned between them. Kermit said, “Stand a little closer to me.” And Piggy said, “Not too close.” My inner eight-year-old had a small heart attack. I'm still not over that.
So what is this movie about? Here's the official deal: “On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, and his friends Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath The Muppets' former stomping grounds. To stage The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever and raise the $10 million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite The Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate. With secret, signature, celebrity cameos, The Muppets hits the big screen Nov. 23, 2011.”
Animal in anger management? That's kind of amazing. We got to check out a scene being shot with a large group of muppets in a car with Gary and Mary, including a very frightening trashy version of Piggy (she's a separate character) with a knife. Though we couldn't hear any dialogue, we were all talking about how all of these poor puppeteers were smashed into a tiny car in the Southern California heat, hidden beneath the seats.
We also chatted with some of the cast and crew. Director James Bobbin, who was also a writer and director for The Flight of the Conchords had this to say about any similarities between Flight and The Muppets in terms of realistic dialogue and fantastical musical scenes. “The music is a key element. Effectively this is a musical comedy...Inevitably in any work that you do, you have a sense of continuity...it came from the same place. And I like that. I think Conchords to Muppets is a quite natural step. I want to take some of that to this...we try to keep it in a fairly contemporary style in terms of the dialogue and the scenes, but when you do the video, we have flights of fancy...I hope it feels similar because I like doing that. I like the idea of using music video grammar from the past. People will recognize certain moments from other music videos or other movies. The Muppets are very referential. They have a great history of referencing things from the time and the past and they really live in the history of entertainment.”
We asked star Jason Segel about which muppets we might be seeing. “Oh man, we're bringing a lot of muppets out from the archives. A lot of the guys from the old Muppet Show...make appearances, but I'm not allowed to give too many away, but there are some old favorites of mine. Marvin Suggs and the Muppaphones appear. I don’t know if you know who they are.”
Segel told Newsarama that this film would be more like the first three than the later ones.
“One of the things the first movies did really well is what Pixar does really well, in that they don't condescend to children by feeling like they have to dumb things down to the lowest common denominator. And when you don't do that, you get a family film in it's truest sense. An entire family can sit and watch it and enjoy it,” said the star.
While we were sitting with Segel, we saw a little kid meet a muppet behind him. He told us that for kids, the puppeteer disappears. You see the guy with his hand in the muppet and he's talking, but the kid looks directly at the character. He said that that sort of magic was one of the main reasons he did the film. “It's a truly beautiful thing.”
Segel told us that he got to work the puppets for Beaker, Dr. Teeth and Fozzie. “It's been amazing. That is what knocks your socks off. This is going to sound different than how I mean it, but my hand was inside Fozzie. [laughs] That's amazing! I never thought that would happen!”
Jenna Busch w/ The Muppets
Segel and writing partner Nick Stoller went a step further as well, inventing the character of Walter, Gary's best friend. “We did not get to design him physically, because then they would owe us a lot of money. [laughs] We came up with him on paper...it was pretty crazy when I saw him and I knew that he was born in our brains. It's like Nick and I had a little baby with our brains.”
Segel said that in the original script, he was a ventriloquist and Walter was his puppet, but that in this world, The Muppets are living creatures and that it was too complicated. He said that they avoid using the word “puppet.” Of course! Kermit is alive! I refuse to believe otherwise. Segel told us that Walter is like a very young version of Kermit, naïve and sweet, and that he's never met anyone like himself. “He's never seen anything else like himself except for The Muppets on television. His dream is to go meet The Muppets and maybe kind of have a family.”
We also spoke to female lead (well, aside from Miss Piggy of course) Amy Adams, who told us how lucky she feels to have been part of the film. “This is something that I grew up with...when I heard they were doing a new one I was really excited. Jason sent me…a DVD where he and Kermit were inviting me to be a part of The Muppets and it was really cool. Once Kermit asks you to do something, it's really hard to look at him and say no.”
Explaining a bit about who she plays, Adams said, “I am Mary who is Gary's somewhat neglected girlfriend, due to his close relationship with Walter. So I'm kind of along for the ride trying desperately to get him to be romantic. Well, in a Disney way.” [laughs]
This was a labor of love for Jason Segel, who told us that it was a challenge doing the film while filming How I Met Your Mother, the popular CBS comedy he also stars in. “It's been tricky. I'm doing seven-day weeks. True seven-day weeks. My hard day...is Tuesday into Wednesday. I do Tuesday daytime on the TV show, I come here and do a Tuesday night shoot and then go immediately back to the TV show for Wednesday, day. So it's a 36 hour day. I sleep in my trailer or when they drive me to set...but it's my dream come true, so you can't complain about it. It's what I had to do to get the movie made. And it's really tough to be in a bad mood around Kermit.”The Muppets will hit theaters on November 23rd, 2011!