TIME Magazine Gets a Little Muppety

Ryan Dosier – Greetings, Muppet fans! As we promised yesterday, today we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the new article for TIME Magzine written by Joel Stein, “Comeback Kids: On the Set of the New Muppets Movie.” This new, fairly awesome article has quite a bit to say about The Muppets the movie and the Muppets the characters along with their fans, the people making said movie, and more. We figured that the best option for looking into this article would be reading it through and highlighting the important parts of it, much like we did with our look into the recent New York Times article. So… let’s get started, shall we?

I’m not sure whether the vibe is coming from the Muppets or from Jason Segel, but everyone is really happy on this set. Actually, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between the Muppets and Segel, the 31-year-old star and co-writer of the new Muppets movie (in theaters Nov. 23). Between takes, Segel out-Muppets the actual Muppets, his grin still Kermit-wide long after the real Kermit the Frog closes his mouth and collapses around puppeteer Steve Whitmire’s hand.

There’s a lot going on here… first, I love that everyone on the set is really happy. How often do you hear that about the set of a movie? Not very. The Muppets do have that effect, however… making everyone happy. Good to see they’ve still got it. Second, Jason Segel is once again showing us that he is right for this project (as if we haven’t already seen that proven time and again). Just by reading this it is obvious to me that what we’re seeing is the realization of a Muppet fan’s dream. It’s as if one of us was getting the chance to act alongside Kermit… and based on how excited he is to be there, I would not hesitate to call Segel one of us.

The script for The Muppets is sweet, old-fashioned and smart, much like the beloved first three Muppet movies.

We haven’t really heard all that much about the script… at least not since very early drafts were leaked. What a wonderful compliment to Segel and Stoller’s script this sentence is! In essence, this sentence hits the three words that Muppet fans have been wanting from the Muppets for years as they’ve struggled to find their footing (or whatever those without feet have) in the entertainment industry again: sweet, old-fashioned, and smart. Muppet fans have voiced their opinions of too cynical Muppets (e.g., snarky Kermit interviews) or Muppets trying too hard to be hip (e.g., Muppet Star Search in The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz) and especially Muppets with dumbed-down humor that no longer plays to all ages (e.g., Letters to Santa). Well, based on this sentence it appears we may be able to put those fears to bed… or at least put on clean sheets.

On the set today, Cooper yells at Kermit with such ferocity and stomps so convincingly around the stage off camera that some mistakenly think he’s spending the entire shoot in character as the villain.

Ooh… that’s interesting, isn’t it? Love to hear that Chris Cooper is taking his villain role very seriously. That’s awesome. And all good Muppet villains have their yell-at-or-threaten-Muppets moment… Doc Hopper’s “You can do my commercials live… or stuffed,” Nicky Holiday holding a gun to Kermit’s head, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “UNEMPLOYMENT LINE!” tirade, and even K. Edgar Singer’s “DON’T… LAUGH… AT ME!” Very good to see that Tex Richman will be carrying on that tradition.

There are moments when you get the feeling someone is going to walk in and tell everyone the Muppets aren’t real and a lot of people are going to cry.

…Huh. I don’t really know what that means, but I think I like what it’s implying. Now, I don’t want anyone in the movie to flat out say, “you aren’t real, you’re puppets,” that would not be good. But if somehow they have tapped into the magic of the Muppets–the fact that no, they aren’t really real, but they are more than real to so many, many people–in such a way that it has the emotional resonance of, say, Toy Story 3… then yes, I’m all for that.

The Muppets’ producers compiled a list of more than 100 actors and singers who wanted to be in the film. Jack Black, Neil Patrick Harris, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Kathy Griffin and Mickey Rooney, among others, made the cut…They created a celebrity-telethon scene so they could work everyone in. “We wanted an Elmo cameo, but that wasn’t going to happen,” Stoller says. “There’s too much money resting on that guy.”

Wow… lots going on here, huh? More than 100 actors and singers? Sheesh! I mean… I guess if I sat down and tried really hard I could come up with a list of 100 actors and singers I would like to see work with the Muppets, but no matter how you slice it, that’s impressive. Also, this seems to be official confirmation that Ed Helms (of The Office and The Hangover) will be making a cameo in the film, so that’s nice, he’s fun. What I wonder, though, is how many people is “everyone” that they worked into the celebrity-telethon scene… and how much “everyone” will actually have to do other than just sit there and have their face on camera.

No Elmo cameo? Sad day… that would have been awesome and I’m sure very tongue-in-cheek. Ah, well… but I do have to wonder how much money is resting on Elmo and if it was Disney or Sesame Workshop that ultimately said no deal.

It’s been a while since there has been money resting on the Muppets: the past 20 years haven’t been kind to them. There were direct-to-DVD films. Miss Piggy did Pizza Hut commercials. Felt gathered dust.

I’m really glad that TIME chose to acknowledge this. One, because they obviously did their research, and two, because they aren’t afraid to point out the flops of the past 20 years and show how much this franchise needs fresh energy put into it.

Even a snarky gossipmonger like Perez Hilton, a recent visitor to the set, gets a little Muppety around the Muppets. “He was a really nice guy,” says Walter, a boyish new Muppet, who in the movie is Gary’s best friend from their small town and likewise idolizes the Muppets. “Perez asked me if I was involved in any scandals. I said, ‘Not any that I know, but I’m sure you’ll tell me if I have.'”

I hope this doesn’t mean that Perez Hilton is in the movie… and if it does, I hope he’s just in the background of the telethon scene. But, aside from that, isn’t this the first time we’ve had a direct quote from Walter? He hasn’t “spoken” before this that we’ve heard… at least I don’t think. So that’s fun. And he’s already adorable and funny which makes me like the little guy even more.

Amy Adams can sing every lyric of every song I can name from 1979’s The Muppet Movie.

Who knew I could love Amy Adams more than I already do?

Segel says he has watched The Muppet Movie more than 50 times — and that was before he even thought of pitching a new version.

See? One of us.
And now Disney is spending $50 million on a movie with singing and puppets and old friends saving the day by putting on a show! Either Segel knows something about America that the rest of us don’t, or he’s about to go back to full-frontal nudity.

That’s either the most hopeful thing I’ve read about the movie… or the most morose. But one can’t deny that Joel Stein pretty much hit the nail on the head with this closing line of the article. Either the Muppets and their signature brand of nice, fun, warm, old-fashioned, smart comedy will strike a chord with today’s audience which undeniably lacks such entertainment today… or the Muppets will fail to reach today’s more jaded viewers. I think I’m going with the first option until I hear otherwise.

And now comes the time where we pull out some notable quotes from people interviewed in the article and talk about them. (The quotes, not the people. Well… maybe the people too.)

“Every time we have a new thing on the set, [Jason] says, ‘Do we own that? Do I own that? Can I own that?’ I told him, ‘You can’t have the Muppet Show sign over your driveway. You’ll never get married.'” ~ Amy Adams

Dear Amy… Does this mean that if I want to get married I need to start losing the Muppet stuff? Is this what Sophie’s Choice was about?!

“I have somebody on watch outside my trailer because [Jason Segel] is so into the Muppets and moi. I’m thinking of getting a restraining order.” ~ Miss Piggy
Love… love, love. Piggy rocks for being herself here, Segel rocks for being an obsessed Muppet fan, and… yeah. Awesome.

“There has to be a time when stupid jokes and warmth and puns come back.” ~ James Bobin, Director

With this one quote, James Bobin has disspelled any and all worries I had about him helming this project (and there weren’t that many to begin with). Stupid jokes, warmth, and puns is basically all I am!

“If you could peel away Jason’s skin, there may be felt underneath,” ~ Todd Lieberman, Producer

I think the same could probably be said for all obsessed Muppet fans, no? Man… why aren’t Jason Segel and I best friends?

“I’m probably a bigger fan of what I grew up watching than what I’ve been a part of.” ~ Eric Jacobson

Now this is very, very interesting. I don’t think that many of us would agree with Eric on this quote–that the classic stuff is more entertaining than recent projects. I’m really hoping that The Muppets will be the beginning of things that Eric, and all of us, can say we love just as much as the stuff we grew up with.

“I relate to the Muppets on a very deep level. They care about being nice to people. I don’t really care about much besides being nice.” ~ Jason Segel

How can you not absolutely love this guy? His heart is obviously in the right place. He is one of us… and he’s making the new Muppet movie. This article, more than anything else, has firmly established what a perfect match Jason Segel and the Muppets are. Time and again Jason has proven himself to be smart, capable, and dedicated… but it all culminates in the writing of this article.

Joel Stein’s article here is not one of uninformed optimism or cynicism… it is one that allows the optimism to flow through the facts and the quotes of the people bringing the project to life and that acknowledges the cynicism with equally important facts and hard-hitting quotes. Joel Stein doesn’t know what will come from this movie… Jason Segel doesn’t know either… and nor do I. But based on everything we have seen, read, and heard about this project… I don’t think we should all start selling our Muppet stuff just yet.

Final image furnished by our good friends at ToughPigs

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

4 thoughts on “TIME Magazine Gets a Little Muppety

  1. Great break down of the article and it does ease much of the worry and raise much of the hope I have for this film. That last image is really interesting. The Muppets are so rarely shown in scale with humans (and each other). A new question arises. Will this new movie continually show Muppets in scale? If not, how will it deal with varying scales? Oh no, a new worry! 🙂

  2. I didn't think the Muppets were dumb downed in “Muppets Letter to Santa”. Yes, they did look for him, but I recall someone did a similar un-finished fan-fic that was posted on the Muppet Central fourms long before this speical was made.

  3. Ryan, I'm going to quote something that you said when speaking of the upcoming Muppet books in another post you made. I'm mentioning it here so you notice it;

    You said;

    “I'm pretty excited about the joke book, the stage display, and the sticker book. On the other hand, I'm beyond confused by the sixth-grader Muppet book… but hey, whatever works, right? Gotta have something for the kids!”

    Have you no imagination? or are you just heartless? The joke, stage display, and sticker books are obviously intended for kids too.

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