It’s been two and a half years since “The Muppets” was released in theaters. Finally, Kermit the Frog and pals are back to bring us more hilarious hijinks with a direct sequel, “Muppets Most Wanted.” Earlier this week, Disney held a press conference to offer a behind the scenes look at the new feature.
Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” takes the entire Muppets gang on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. But mayhem follows the Muppets overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine — the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit — and his dastardly sidekick Dominic, aka Number Two, portrayed by Ricky Gervais. The film also stars Tina Fey as Nadya, a feisty prison guard, and Ty Burrell as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon.
Producer Todd Lieberman, director James Bobin, and songwriter Bret McKenzie joined in the press conference, answering a lot of questions regarding the creation of this sequel. When asked about the Henson family’s involvement, Bobin said Brian Henson was able to visit the set of 2011’s “The Muppets” a few times because it was filmed in Los Angeles but because they filmed “Most Wanted” overseas, he wasn’t able to visit the more recent production. But he added that Brian has seen the film and is a fan of the movie, which Bobin is “thrilled by.” Incidentally, Brian Henson and James Bobin are now the only two people to have directed two Muppet films.
The original title of the film was going to be “The Muppets… Again.” McKenzie said it came as a surprise when Disney’s marketing department decided to change the title. He asked if they realized that at the end of the first big musical number, the song ends with “It’s the Muppets Again!” But immediately after, the new title appears on screen. McKenzie said he tried to make the new title work in the song but in the end it “didn’t sit well in the Muppets’ mouths” so they decided to leave the lyric as they were originally written.
Another bit of trivia: Bobin pointed out that the new character Constantine was based on General Orlov from the James Bond film Octopussy.
Highlight of the filmmakers’ press conference are in the video below. Don’t miss McKenzie’s awesome impression of Miss Piggy.
Once the making-of details were dished, the press conference took a more comedic tone when human stars Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Burrell took the panel alongside legendary Muppets Kermit, Sam Eagle, Miss Piggy and the newest addition, Constantine, the villain in their latest adventure.
The cast was asked if doing this film had increased their street cred with their kids. The always hilarious Ricky Gervais joked that he doesn’t have children but when he got cast in the film, he started hanging out at schools and bragging.
Then things took a turn for the weird when Gervais began asking Kermit about what he and Piggy’s children would look like, describing a mutated frog pig thing, or an “abomination” as Tina Fey called it. Kermit was quick to point out that they haven’t “consummated the experiment yet.” Now there’s an unexpected topic for the Muppets.
With this much talent in the room, the entire press conference highly entertaining unto itself, well worth a watch (below). Reporter hat aside, being there in the room with real live Muppets riffing and shooting the breeze with these giants of comedy was an incredible treat for me personally.
To prepare for the press conference, I did have a chance to see an early screening of “Muppets Most Wanted.” Sadly, while the conference was brilliant, the movie was not.
There is a lyric in the film’s opening number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” in which the Muppets sing “Everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” Though intended as a joke, it turns out they were right. Like any Muppets movie, the film has many moments of hilarity, but overall it just doesn’t measure up to 2011’s “The Muppets.” At 1 hour and 52 minutes, the new film feels long. I brought my 5 year old and 3 year old nephews to see it and they were squirming for much of the film – and so was I.
Die-hard Muppets fans are sure to enjoy the film for what it is – random Muppet zaniness – but I don’t believe it will have the same widespread success that the previous film did. The nostalgia factor worked so well for “The Muppets,” courtesy of co-writer and star Jason Segel’s own love of the characters. But now that the Muppets are back, I’m not sure the general public will care as much. I missed having Walter and Gary (Segel) as access characters. Maybe it’s heresy, but I think the Muppets are at their best as supporting characters. Otherwise, it eventually becomes white noise of wackiness.
And while many moviegoers left the previous film with “Man or Muppet” stuck in their heads, there isn’t much staying power to be found in the music of “Muppets Most Wanted.” The songs are a little amusing while they’re playing, but forgotten immediately thereafter, short of Constantine’s catchy “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu).”
Though the new film isn’t the Muppets’ finest work, there’s no doubt these classic characters will remain relevant under Disney’s watch for many years to come. Even something as simple as this press event managed to bring forth the magic of the Muppets. I was grinning like a child when posing for a picture with Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy (below) and thoroughly enjoyed my one-on-one conversations with Kermit and Constantine. (Look for those on Inside the Magic soon!) Meandering Muppet movies like this latest one may not be for everyone, but the Muppets themselves are forever, thankfully.
Preceding the film is the newest (and hilarious) Pixar short, “Party Central,” which I’ll be sharing much more about soon as well.
“Muppets Most Wanted” is rated PG and opens in theaters on March 21, 2014.