But even sequels are a risk if you make a movie that doesn't offer something new. This fall, Disney took the chance on greenlighting a Muppet Movie without the blessing of Frank Oz (who was miffed that his own sequel project, developed under old management, was overlooked). So the studio gave veteran in-house producers Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman ("The Fighter"), exec producer and co-writer Nick Stoller and Muppet-obsessed writer-actor Jason Segal ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") a modest budget with which to shoot a live-action puppet musical: $45 million.
Well, lo and behold Disney will get a much better return on its investment with the family hit "The Muppets" than Warner Bros., which is reeling from the flop sequel "Happy Feet 2." First, with so many family films battling for audiences at the same time ("Puss in Boots,""Arthur Christmas," "Hugo"), something had to give.
For "The Muppets," Lieberman and Hoberman and writer-producers Stoller and Segal met with fifteen directors before hiring James Bobin of "Da Ali G Show" and "Flight of the Conchords" fame, who in turn brought in half of the "Conchords" duo, 35-year-old Bret McKenzie, to write three original songs, including "Life's a Happy Song," a strong candidate for an Oscar nomination.
"It was not the same old, same old," says Hoberman. "We were appealing to adults and kids, as Jim Henson would do, with great musical numbers. But we were respectful of Muppet culture and history." While Miss Piggy was not handled by disgruntled Frank Oz (Eric Jacobson did the honors), the rest of the Muppet puppeteers were thrilled to be back in action; some of the more ambitious set pieces feature as many as fifty.
In the end, even if Oz dissed the film (sight unseen), Brian and Lisa Henson gave the final result their blessing. And more important, so did audiences, who will keep on coming through the Christmas holidays.