Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a press junket for ‘Muppets Most Wanted‘, the highly anticipated sequel to the 2011 film, ‘The Muppets’. The new film stars Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey, with everyone’s favorite Muppets, on a worldwide adventure that sees the Muppets caught in the middle of a crime wave, where they are suspect number one. Disney invited us out to talk to the people behind the film, getting an inside look at their minds during the filmmaking process. The day was split up between two panels, the first of which was with director James Bobin, the film’s song writer, Brett McKenzie, and producer Todd Lieberman, as they covered what it was like returning to the world of The Muppets.
One of the most interesting parts of the junket came when someone asked about the film’s title, which was heavily rumored for some time to be ‘The Muppets…Again’. When the film starts, there’s a musical number, “We’re Doing a Sequel”, which has the characters that it’s, “the Muppets, again,” which one of the journalists caught. Bret McKenzie went on to explain what happened there, and apparently it had to do with the people marketing the film:
And, so the first song we’re doing a sequel ends with the Muppets all singing “it’s the Muppets again,” because we’d thought it be great to, you know, the song to have the title of the movie in it but then well after we’d filmed it all, uh, Marketing decided to change the name of the movie and, and so, we tried going “it’s the Muppets Most Wanted,” and, it really didn’t sit very well on the mouths of the Muppets, so we did okay.
It’s interesting to see that the marketing of the film changed the film’s title overall, something that the filmmakers may not have necessarily agreed with it, but they don’t seem to have any hard feelings towards it, which is great. It’s even better to see they tried to play with it and add it to the song.
One thing the Muppets have always been known for, is the parade of cameos in their films and show. Stars appear sporadically throughout, not surprisingly, and the filmmakers were asked about people asking to be in the film. Director James Bobin and producer Todd Lieberman talked a bit about how some of the stars in the film came about.
Bobin: Yeah, no for—from when—when Nick and I write the script we’re writing peoples names in often and obviously certain people have to be that person like you can’t do the Christoph Waltz joke with anybody else because it is about a waltz so that’s impossible. But …
Lieberman: …a lot of the cameos, we have a list of people who want to be in the movie and then as we kinda go through, as these guys go through writing the movie, we gather other intel of fans and people we like and people that like us and then we kinda do this grid. But there’s so many people who love the Muppets and it’s kind of, it’s an interesting matrix to put together to figure out where people go correctly and how to fit all the people that love in the movie which, you know, hopefully we’ve accomplished.
Bobin went on to say that he was also approached on the street on many occasions by actors and personalities, hoping to land a role in the film, and many times, he’d give them one, with Lady Gaga in particular being pointed out going that route to getting a role in the film.
Of course, the question of if Brett McKenzie felt any pressure of his song creation, coming off his Academy Award win for the last film’s song, “Man of Muppet”, did come up. McKenzie joked a bit about it, but went on to talk about a bit about the process, and telling a funny of story about where he composed many of the film’s songs:
Nope. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, but what can you do? You know there’s a little bit of pressure and, on my piano at home I have the Oscar. It sits on my piano and so occasionally I’ll be working around looking at, oh, that’s not good enough. But then, I moved to LA to work on the songs and we hired a space in—on Hollywood Boulevard, an old—an old shop and I put a piano in there. It was like this sorta dusty old shop to hide away and work on these songs and these guys came and visited, to listen to the demos and it was quite a funny scene because people would be walking by hearing this, me hitting on, you know, playing the piano and occasionally—occasionally they’d walk in and they’d say, “is there music lessons going on here?” Or what is this? Is this some sort of art installation?
But the most interesting, and really the most important topic that was brought up, was how it came to balancing a film that both kids and adults could enjoy together and love. That’s been a huge staple of the series for a long time, featuring humor for kids, while also making references to things that the parents will understand and laugh at that they may not get. Bobin was very upfront with the question, and went on to say:
Yeah, it’s one of the challenges of this film is it has to be for everybody. I remember watching the Muppet show in the 70’s and it was the thing I watched when I was, you know, six or seven and my dad watched it with me and my grandparents watched it with me. And we’re all laughing throughout but I think we’re probably laughing at different things. And it’s kinda what we’re gonna do in this film too whereby I—I now have children of my own and so I watch with my daughter. And she laughs her head off and I laugh my head off. But again, probably at different things. And so it’s that thing where we’re trying to do both things at the same time throughout and so for me it’s about multi layering the story and multi layering the jokes on top of visuals and creating something which bears repeat viewing. That’s another huge thing about it. I love making a movie you can watch again, again and again ‘cause kids watch things a lot. You know, my—my kids wear out movies they love. They watch them again and they’re no kinda limit to how many times they can watch it, and I love the idea that if you build something with enough depth and texture you can watch it again and again and see new things every time and that’s very important.
Then Lieberman would go on to say:
But the idea is and from the beginning we—we always set out to not make a movie for kids but make a movie for everybody that kids also loved and so if we laughed we knew it would—it would appeal to us and then we also have kids so we could kind of use them as a test audience.
It was great listening to these guys, who clearly love and appreciate The Muppets, and what they stand for. These guys have their heads on right, and they want to make sure they give the Muppets, and Jim Henson, a proper tribute and continuation. It’s great to see that they’ve been given the chance to really fully realize their own dreams, and getting to play in this world, and bringing us The Muppets back in a way they see fit. This is just part one of the press junket coverage, look out for the ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ Press Junket Part 2 soon!
Don’t forget, ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ opens on March 21, 2014. The film stars Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Ty Burrell, Ricky Gervais, Constantine Frog, Walter, and Tina Fey, and is directed by James Bobin.
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