Movies

8 Things We Learned at the MUPPETS MOST WANTED Press Conference

“We’re doin’ a sequel!” proclaims a recently-released trailer for Muppets Most Wanted, a direct follow-up to 2011’s The Muppets that takes the gang on a European tour – save for one Muppet whose nefarious doppelganger orchestrates an identity switch in order to steal the continent’s finest treasures.

With both the cast and crew settling into a comfortable groove the second time around, Muppets Most Wanted promises even more razzle-dazzle than its predecessor.  We recently got to hear director and co-writer James Bobin, producer Todd Lieberman, and songwriter Bret McKenzie discuss the sequel’s musical numbers, celebrity cameos, and more at a recent press event.  Not to be outdone, the cast members, including Kermit the FrogMiss Piggy, Sam EagleTina FeyRicky GervaisTy Burrell, and newcomer Constantine, also had a lively conversation about their experiences working on the movie.

In honor of Muppets Most Wanted being the Muppets’ eighth feature film, here are the 8 most interesting things we learned from the press conference:

1. More Muppets!

When asked if there was anything they learned from their first attempt at a Muppet movie, Bobin and Lieberman mentioned how daunting it was to find roles for such a staggeringly large cast of characters.  The Muppets was so focused on re-introducing the main characters – and introducing a brand new one in Walter – that the filmmakers were pleased to have another opportunity to give certain characters their moment in the limelight.  Rizzo the Rat fans, keep your eyes open…

2. Everybody Wants to Be a Muppet

There’s a long list of celebrities targeted for cameo roles in a Muppet movie, but sometimes the filmmakers have stars knocking on their door.  For instance, Lieberman told Bobin and his co-writer Nicolas Stoller that two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz was eager to appear in the movie, so the duo wrote a bit specifically for the actor.  Hint: it involves a pun on his last name.

3. The Title Switcheroo

Movie news junkies might recall that the original working title of the film was The Muppets…Again, which is reflected in the lyrics to the song that kicked off this post, “We’re Doing a Sequel.”  McKenzie confirmed that the number was shot before Disney’s marketing department changed the title.  He considered an alternate version, but the words “most wanted” just didn’t sit right in the melody and the song still made sense even if it was no longer an in-joke.

4. Window Shopping with Bret McKenzie

After hashing out song ideas at his home in New Zealand, McKenzie took his Oscar-winning talents to Hollywood to further refine the movie’s original tunes.  This involved leasing a storefront in a strip mall on Hollywood Boulevard as a workspace where the only furniture included a piano and a small couch.  Bobin noted that people would often walk by and see McKenzie working, and ask if he was giving piano lessons!

Muppets

5. Hooray for (Classic) Hollywood

“I’ve always believed the Muppets occupy a great place in entertainment history,” remarked Bobin, explaining the film’s many references to a bygone era of big studio filmmaking, from Busby Berkeley-style water dances to sequences inspired by The Pink Panther and The Great Escape.  Bobin pointed out more modern influences as well – he created the Russian jewel thief Constantine in the image of General Orlov, a villain from the early-80s Bond flick Octopussy.

6. Constantine and Kermit Are Related

Though they play enemies in the movie, Kermit said that Constantine was “a distant cousin from Russia, also with roots in the Colorado area.”  The latter seemed to have a rockier upbringing – a frozen pond, 800 siblings vying for attention (if they weren’t eat by fish first) – that might explain his prickly personality.  In the end, though, Gervais lauded Constantine as his new best friend, and Kermit was appreciative that he didn’t have to play a dual role, admitting “I don’t work well on green screen.”

7. Singing and Dancing with the Stars

The human co-stars all had varying degrees of experience with the Muppets’ old-fashioned musical milieu.  Gervais didn’t mind singing but characterized his dancing as “a little awkward” (but you can be the judge).  Burrell was happy that he only had to sing two notes in his big number, which is still impressive for its impeccable comic timing.  And Fey was the most evocative in her description: “If you’ve ever seen the movie version of Oliver! and you can hear the hiss from how loud they had to turn up the microphone to hear the little boy…that’s what my singing sounds like.”

8. Ricky Gervais Doesn’t Sweat Reviews

While he doesn’t ignore the feedback that comes with releasing a new project, Gervais explained that entertainers have to keep everything in perspective.  Pleasing everyone is not an artistic ideal – and pretty much impossible, given the modern echo chamber that is social media.  “Having said that,” quipped Gervais, “just say f____g nice things about [Muppets Most Wanted], please!  Not for me, but for the kids.”

Stay tuned for Screen Invasion’s review of Muppets Most Wanted, which opens everywhere on March 21. Comment below and tell us what you’re most excited to see in the sequel!
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The Author

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is a film critic and correspondent for Screen Invasion, as well as the founder of Ambler Amblog (http://ambleramblog.blogspot.com/). His parents named him after a Welsh spy novelist they found in a reference book. Someday he will get around to watching all the VHS tapes he bought at Goodwill.