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.