The Muppets Are The Most Wanted
The furry and spongy gang known as the Muppets is back. After a successful reboot with "The Muppets," Jim Henson's gang of animals, monsters, and googly-eyed misfits return, this time in a caper worthy of "The Crown Affair." Well, sort of.
Picking up where the last film ended, the Muppets have to decide what to do next. While they know that a sequel is first and foremost, they don't really know where to go from there. So with the help of a band manager played by Ricky Gervais and whose last name is "Badguy," they set out on a World Tour. But the world's number one criminal "Constantine" - who also happens to be a dead-ringer for Kermit (with the exception of the mole on his right cheek) - has other plans for the group. Suddenly, our loveable band of goofballs has inadvertently become the world's most wanted criminals. Hence the title. But that wasn't always what the sequel was going to be called.
At a recent press conference to promote the film, Brett McKenzie - the songwriter for "The Muppets" and "Muppets Most Wanted" - explained how the title of the film was supposed to be a part of the opening number. "The song ends with 'the Muppets again!' We thought it would be great to have a song with the title of the movie in it. But then after we filmed it all, [Disney] marketing decided to change the name of the movie and so we tried going 'it's the Muppet's Most Wanteeeeed!' It really didn't sit very well in the mouth of the Muppets."
The whole process of filming the movie was great fun for returning director James Bobin who talked about how complicated it can be to film because Muppets have no legs. As a result, all the sets have to be built four or five feet in the air. This allows the puppeteers to stand up when performing which is easier when trying to group Muppets together. The technical aspect can be challenging and make for long days, but the payoff was worth it. ""At the end of the day you look around and you see these incredible characters behind you in the hall and it’s just really fun," Bobin reminisced. "It’s why it’s so fun for the actors playing the cameos. They come on set and they meet these characters they’ve loved all their lives and it’s a lovely moment for them."
So what about those cameos? People like Christophe Waltz, Saorsie Ronan, P Diddy, Tom Hiddleston, and Lady Gaga all make appearances in the film. Sometimes the script was written with specific actors in mind. Other times they knew who was already interested. "We had a list of people that wanted to be in the movie," explained producer Todd Lieberman. "And then as we go through writing the movie we gather other Intel of fans and people that we like and that like us. Christoph Waltz was one where he was a massive fan of the first movie and really wanted to be a part of this one."
What’s great about the sequel is that the filmmakers seem to be having even more fun with the characters because they aren’t saddled with the plot of "getting the gang back together." Here they can just go full-throttle with the plot and the laughs. Lieberman admitted that the first movie was centered on a human being and a Muppet of their creation. With the sequel, the movie’s emotional core centers on the Muppets themselves which changed the game for them. It allowed more freedom and humor.
Most of the creative team remembers watching "The Muppet Show" as children. "From the beginning we set out not to make a movie for kids," explained Lieberman, "but make a movie for everybody that kids also loved. So if we laughed we knew it would appeal to us and then we also have kids so we used them as a test audience." He went on to say he knew they were doing things the right way when his kids infiltrated his computer so they could hear the demo of one of the big musical numbers. Bobin agrees that his kids influenced what stayed in the film because his kids reacted so strongly to certain characters. McKenzie noted the trend. "I think the children of Hollywood are more influential than the parents."
The human actors in the film agree that it’s a film for everyone. A good portion of the jokes are far above the intellect of children, but there are enough jokes and gags that kids will love it even if they don’t get all the in-jokes. Being a mother of two, Tina Fey (who plays Gulag officer Nadya) said she thinks kids take a lot of pride in "getting" the jokes, "It makes them feel big." Gervais added that it’s a film that doesn’t patronize kids, but aims higher. Ty Burrell who plays a French Interpol agent named Jean Pierre Napoleon was characteristically self-deprecating. "I have the IQ of a 7-year old and I loved this movie so much. I also love juice."
Kermit & Tina
But the Muppets are the stars of the film and with four attending the press conference, they had a lot to say. When the villain Constantine was asked if he ever thought about leaving behind a life of crime and joining the Muppets full-time, he said it was a good question, but was actually thinking of doing a show on Netflix called "House of Toads." Gervais smiled at him. "Amazing. You’re the best." To which Constantine simply replied, "I am."
When asked what he was most proud of on this new film, Kermit gave his answer a lot of thought. This is the exchange that followed.
KERMIT: You might be surprised to hear this, but I’m actually stretching myself quite a lot as a dramatic actor in this thing. I did many scenes with Tina. One particular scene stands out to me. It was a closed set. It was the scene where she licks me. I just want to clear it up with the press. Tina is happily married. [Her husband] was there during the shooting.
TINA FEY: My husband was there being kind of controlling and creepy.
KERMIT: But supportive.
TINA FEY: Very ’Star 80. I had never done a scene like that before either. I mean I’ve filmed a lot of weird stuff at home, but to have a whole crew there I was nervous and Kermit really put in at my ease. I did hallucinate for three or four hours.
KERMIT : Which is weird because I had blood tests before and I thought the toxins were low. Very strange.
And Ricky Gervais
One person Fey didn’t get any real screen time with was Miss Piggy, who, of course, arrived to the press conference fashionably late. Fey did tell Piggy how pretty she looked. Miss Piggy was enamored. With herself. "Thank youuuu. Thank youuuu. (pause) I think you look pretty too. But you’re so far away. I’m sure you look pretty."
Seeing the film, it is clear Miss Piggy gets the special treatment and a lot of money is spent on her special guest stars and making her look her very best. When asked about her duet with Celine Dion, she explained that, "working with Celine Dion was a pleasure and a joy for her. Naturally. Yes. I’m only too happy let her ride my coattails up to the Oscar stage. It was very meaningful to her."
There’s also the *spoiler alert* wedding dress used during the finale. A Vivian Westwood. But the discussion about the gown led the final conversation of the conference in a bit of a dark direction for Miss Piggy and her tumultuous relationship with Kermit.
MISS PIGGY: Vivian made moi a beautiful gown. Yes. Made out of recycled plastic bottles. Um, took a little while to get over that. As they say, something old, something new, something recycled, something ’something or other.’
KERMIT: Lucky for me she didn’t get to keep the wardrobe.
MISS PIGGY: I can call Viv.
KERMIT: No, no! I think it’s probably disintegrated by now.
MISS PIGGY: I don’t think so, I think the half-life for plastic is pretty long.
KERMIT: What about the half-life for a pig/frog marriage? Not sure about that. I don’t even think it’s legal.
MISS PIGGY: Grrr..
RICKY GERVAIS: In the movie, when you get married and you have children. Why are they all pigs and frogs. Why aren’t they-
TINA FEY: An abomination?
GERVAIS: Well, some sort of fat, green, snorkeling hoppy greeny pig. Did you work that out yet?
KERMIT: Well we haven’t actually consummated the experiment. So uh...
"The Muppets Most Wanted" is in theaters on Friday, March 21, 2014.