Nostalgia runs deep after a twelve year big screen hiatus, but on January 12 we get to experience the brilliance that is The Muppets once again. Millions all over the world tuned into their weekly TV series to catch up with their unique comedy back in the 80s and 90s. The biggest stars of the day guest-starred and often found themselves upstaged by Muppet diva, Miss Piggy. The Muppets are back in a big budget, big screen reboot courtesy of Disney and we have Jason Segel from television’s HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER to thank for their timely return.
Disney’s THE MUPPETS is a passion project for Segel who says “Ultimately they’re my first influence in comedy combined with the fact they’re so positive – its two things I really care about grouped into one. The fact that I got to work on something like this and deliver it to a whole new generation was a really exciting idea for me”.
Segel was recently in Australia to promote the new movie simply titled THE MUPPETS. His travelling companion was the green superstar himself, Kermit the Frog. Kermit is a showbiz veteran who has been working since the mid ‘50s. He and Segal couldn’t be happier about the reaction to the film’s green carpet premiere in Sydney. . “It’s gratifying” Kermit says. Segal agrees, “Everywhere we’ve gone people are really excited that the Muppets are back on the big screen. They turned out in droves to meet Kermit.”
One of the keys to the Muppets’ success has always been the quality of the music. Twice they had a hit with their cover of the Swedish pop song Mahna Mahna. Their original 1979 feature film launched Kermit’s signature song Rainbow Connection which went on to become the 74th Greatest Song of All Time as rated by the American Film Institute, lucky for us Segel brought that special song back in a bit of a different way for the latest outing. The new movie reworks everything from classic pop songs like Starship’s We Built this City to a version of Cee Lo Green’s Forget You sung by Camilla and the Chickens.
A number of the original songs are written by Bret McKenzie, the bearded half of musical duo Flight of the Conchords. His songs include the movie’s title track Life’s A Happy Song, a duet with Amy Adams with Miss Piggy titled Me Party and, surprisingly, a rap for actor Chris Cooper. . Segel comments on Cooper’s scene. “It was in the script originally and I think it’s part of what drew him to the role, he does play so many serious parts and for him to be able to cut loose a little bit was a nice departure.” McKenzie also stepped in as the film’s Music Supervisor with his good buddy and co-creator of Flight of the Concords James Bobin behind the camera as Director.
The new movie is filled with surprising cameos from a galaxy of Hollywood stars such as Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt and Dave Grohl. Casting Amy Adams in the lead female role was something of a coup. Segel says, “I absolutely wrote the movie for Amy to play that part ever since I saw ENCHANTED and JUNEBUG. I knew she had that kind of wide-eyed innocence that was perfect for The Muppets.” Segel persuaded her to get involved in a particularly cute way. He and Kermit sent her a video invitation to be in the film. It features Segel singing part of a song in an over-the-top tribute to Adams’ talents.
Kermit and Segel are an oddly matched pair. Segal is 6 foot 4 inches in height and Kermit stands at an even 3 feet. They obviously come from a very different comedy tradition. Kermit earned his comedy stripes on SESAME STREET and then later in the Vaudeville world of THE MUPPET SHOW. His mentor was the beloved founder of The Muppets, Jim Henson. Segel’s inspiration was the somewhat spikier producer, director and writer, Judd Apatow. He first met Apatow when he was cast in the cult TV series FREAKS AND GEEKS which also starred Seth Rogen and James Franco. Segel says, “He taught me how to write and really mentored me and has been an amazing force in our whole group’s life, his big goal was to give us the tools we needed to then go off and make it on our own.”
This eventually led to his writing and starring in the Apatow produced FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL which Kermit rates very highly. “I’m obliged to say Sarah Marshall is my favourite because of that opening scene, we both have that in common, Jason generally tries to perform naked and I always perform naked.” Coincidentally, Segel worked alongside the Henson Company to create the puppets used in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL’
His current collaboration with The Muppets has presented Segel with some interesting challenges. The production closed down Hollywood Boulevard for two nights running. Segel, Adams and the entire Muppets crew backed by hundreds of extras, performed the elaborate final musical number. “It was wonderful,” Kermit says, “We had an enormous crowd of 500 thousand extras on the first night, stretched all the way down the street from one end of Hollywood to the other.” Kermit laughs at his exaggerated numbers.
“It was a magical night,” Segel says, “All of the Muppets were there and we were singing and dancing. Totally coincidentally on a lamp post there were banners for a Jim Henson Retrospective that were not part of our set dressing, so the whole time we had a beautiful picture of Mr. Henson looking down on us, smiling.”
Darran Price and Phil Jeng Kane (accessreel.com)