Some Dissatisfied 'The Muppets' Performers Considered Taking Their Names Off The Movie

by Kevin Jagernauth
October 20, 2011 10:33 AM
14 Comments
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Frank Oz Says He Turned Down 'The Muppets' Because The Script Didn't Respect The Characters



It seemed almost too good to be true. Buoyed with clever, parody driven teaser spots, an effusive, infectious energy and full-length trailers that really differed, who would've thought that behind the scenes, Disney is not only worried about the upcoming franchise reboot, but there is also dissent among some longtime performers about the approach writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller have taken with the brand. THR has an excellently detailed look at the hand-wringing behind the scenes, but it's Frank Oz's recent comments to Metro that synthesize the struggle between the old and new guard.

"I wasn't happy with the script," he said about his decision to turn down the film. "I don't think they respected the characters. But I don't want to go on about it like a sourpuss and hurt the movie." Strong words from the man behind Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal and the director of "The Muppets Take Manhattan," but it's a sentiment that seems to be running through many of the folks involved with the movie in what appears to be a classic case of a new approach some cherished characters ruffling some feathers.

When we catch up with the Muppets next month a lot will have changed since we saw them last. Fozzie is playing with a tribute band, Miss Piggy works at Vogue Paris, Gonzo is a plumbing magnate and there will be a new character too in the form of Walter. And even though they have yet to see the movie -- which has apparently been performing very well at test screenings -- insiders tell THR they have deep concerns with the Segel/Stoller approach. And it all starts with Fozzie's fart shoes from the last trailer.

"We wouldn't do that; it's too cheap. It may not seem like much in this world of [Judd] Apatow humor, but the characters don't go to that place," said one Muppets veteran. Another laments, "They're looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story." Another is even concerned about stepping outside the established mythology saying that the upcoming film "creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie." Put it all together and you have a bunch of people still very much stuck on an approach to The Muppets that is stuck in the past. But don't dismiss that sentiment as just a bunch of old people who don't "get it."

According to THR, a handful of performers on the movie -- including the person who controls Kermit -- considered taking their names off the movie, but changed their mind when they realized it wouldn't make much of a difference anyhow. The chagrin from longtime Muppets veterans are compounded because they've largely felt like an afterthought in the big Disney machine that has barely mustered interest in the franchise until now. And Oz's feelings must be a bit burned because while he had his own Muppets project he was developing to direct at the studio, Disney began talking to Segel at the same time and it was his film that ultimately went forward instead. The twist in all this is that Segel is a massive Muppets fan, and we'd imagine he's horrified at the thought of ruining their legacy. And in his defense, updating the Muppets for contemporary times, while retaining the charm and traits that have served the franchise well over all these years seems to be the right approach. Certainly, what we've seen so far is nothing short of a celebration of Muppets in what is a careful and clever update. But purists are often hard to please and the first to criticize.

Still, there are those in the Muppet camp who are remaining cautiously optimistic. "I'm very hopeful the characters are as warm and loving to each other as they were when Jim was directing," said Bonnie Erickson, executive director of the Jim Henson Legacy. "I'm hoping the standard of excellence that Jim set is maintained."

For Disney's part, the budget of $40 million is relatively small especially when compared to something like, say, "The Lone Ranger," but they are hoping for more than just to be profitable. Disney is all about brands and licensing, and if "The Muppets" takes off it not only reinvigorates a franchise, but creates some new revenue streams. With the movie arriving on Thanksgiving, we'll soon find out. But until then, and highlighting the how the Muppets have been updated in the forthcoming film, a photo spread of Miss Piggy doing her thing in InStyle magazine arrived today. A loving update or straight disrespect to the wholesome quality of the franchise? You decide.







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More: Films, The Muppets

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14 Comments

  • Aly M | October 25, 2011 3:20 AMReply

    I am the HUGEST muppets fan ever. As much as I respect Mr. Oz and others, I think it stems back to letting someone else in the club. Segel is a self-professed muppet maniac, and I think he would be heartbroken to hear these criticisms. I genuinely think he cares more about the integrity of the muppets than profit. For God's sake, give the man a chance.

  • Anonymous | October 22, 2011 6:11 AMReply

    Similar articles claim that some the Muppet performers wanted to remove their names from the film, but I question how much truth there is to that.

    Check out this blog post from a fan who meet some of the Muppet performers that suggests the contrary;

    http://themuppetmindset.blogspot.com/2011/08/muppets-and-me-at-d23-part-2.html

  • Anonymous | October 22, 2011 3:47 AMReply

    Apparently, none of these guys had any problem with the crass line that Miss Piggy (spoken by Frank Oz) said in Muppets From Space; "I gotta pee!"

  • Anonymous | October 21, 2011 12:53 PMReply

    I loved the comment about the storyline. Yes, these characters are FICTIONAL. the idea of forcing them to do things is hilarious.

    And let's be honest, has any mature adult been interested in the muppets since muppet Christmas carol? Even then I was watching it for the kids. I love Jason segel, and I'll see this movie because I think he's going to make the muppets relevant.

  • Kim | October 21, 2011 12:08 PMReply

    I get that Frank Oz feels ownership over "The Muppets" but at the same time a lot of these "in the fold" people let movies like "Muppets in Oz" and such happen along with the horrible mistreatment of said Muppets. I mean for the last.... 10 years or so the only Muppet relevance has been through Weezer and Seaseme Street. So if they want to critque at least currently they are being recognized.

    And as much love as I have for Oz (he's the voice of Yoda after all), dude can't bitch and moan about ruining the history of a sacred movie history, when he made that AWFUL "Stepford Wives."

  • News Hit | October 21, 2011 7:24 AMReply

    “creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie.”

    Err, what? This is not based on a historical novel or real-life events, but a television show and a successful film franchise. Whatever backstory that Segel and co. develop will not be "false" or untrue, but merely faithful or unfaithful to the previous series.

  • Lincoln Logs | October 21, 2011 5:15 AMReply

    Boston Blackie is a racist rapist, but I agree one hundred percent with his statements regarding this matter.

  • Gucci | October 21, 2011 4:35 AMReply

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/i-appreciate-the-muppets-on-a-much-deeper-level-th,16208/

  • Boston Blackie | October 21, 2011 4:34 AMReply

    I call bullsh*t. The so-called veterans of the Muppets team were perfectly okay with doing crap like that Muppets From Space movie (which flopped) and letting Miss Piggy get trashed and blamed when things went wrong. Suddenly NOW they care about quality and integrity? What a bunch of hypocrites!

    From the script I read,, Segel respected the characters better than the old-timers did, and furthermore, understood better what the public wants from them. As for Frank Oz, he went along with letting his signature Muppet character, Miss Piggy, deteriorate in both scripting and design, so it's a hoot that now he's worried about a script not "respecting the characters". Sounds like he's bellyaching because he got passed over. (Speaking of Piggy's design, she looks great in those magazine photos. Looks like being separated from Oz has done her good).

    And of course it's DISNEY who let the Muppets "languish", not the crew that kept putting out subpar Muppet productions like Muppets Tonight. It's all just finger-pointing by the old Muppet crew, no doubt. Isn't it interesting that nothing that went wrong with the Muppets is ever THEIR fault?

  • RaZ? | October 21, 2011 2:51 AMReply

    The reason they went with jason segels script is because His face tied to it will sell the franchise in theaters... If they had used anyone else I guarantee it would have been straight to dvd. Personally I want to see it because of of him and I grew up watching the muppet movies.

  • stop | October 21, 2011 2:23 AMReply

    stop acting like you all give a shit about the muppets. unless your 8.

    even if you had fond memories of them from when you were a kid...do you really still watch old muppet movies? please.

  • SomewhereSE | December 28, 2011 1:58 PM

    I'm almost 40 years old and I watch the old Muppet Show. I have every season. :-) I have a teenaged son, and I am a fun, responsible mother. But I will always be a kid at heart. Miss Piggy RAWKS!

  • Jo G | October 20, 2011 11:29 AMReply

    This is sad. I want The Muppets to succeed with this movie but it sucks if it's at the expense of the behind the scenes team who have stuck with the Muppets for so long and at the expense of the integrity of the characters.

    Does anyone know what the marketing budget is for this movie? The production budget may not be huge but I wouldn't be surprised if they've spent as much if not more on publicity. The amount of marketing for this has been insane!

  • samir | October 20, 2011 10:54 AMReply

    It's The Phantom Menace all over again.

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