Posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011 by Russ Fischer
Is Muppet-land plagued by some discontent? The Muppets were last on the big screen in Muppets in Space in 1999, and since Disney bought the character stable in 2004 the company has been trying to come up with a way to re-launch the Muppets as a vital brand.
The company eventually settled on The Muppets, written by big-time Muppet fan Jason Segel and his creative partner Nicholas Stoller. But while a series of film-parodying teasers and a couple of great full-on trailers have done a lot to build an audience, some of the old-school Muppet crew isn’t convinced that the film is treating the characters well.
THR has a long piece on the movie, citing what it calls “the old Muppets guard — a group of writers and performers involved in creating the franchise”
The piece notes that most of these old guard haven’t seen the film yet, so comments like “they’re looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story,” have to be taken with caution. But another source complains that that ‘fart shoes’ joke seen in the most recent trailer is “too cheap,” and another takes issue with the way the story is treating the core characters, through elements such as Kermit owning a mansion at the outset.
One old-guard Muppet participant says the film “creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie.” Which, frankly just sounds a bit sour.
And then there’s Frank Oz, one of the few named interviewees, and someone who was trying to get his own new Muppet movie made before Disney went with Segel. “I wasn’t happy with the script… 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.” There’s even the note that the performer who puppeteered Kermit (unnamed in the piece) thought about taking his name off the film, but ended up deciding not to bother because doing so wouldn’t have any effect.
What really seems to be happening is the continuation of a rift between the Jim Henson old guard and the execs at Disney, who are seen by Henson’s old crew as being interested only in the bottom line. That characterization may well be true, but there’s also the fact of Jason Segel, whose enthusiasm for the characters is very easy to see every time he talks about the Muppets. And while Jim Henson would have done things one way, things can’t remain unchanged forever. Either the Muppets need to be retired for good, to preserve the Henson vision of the characters, or the idea that they might change a little bit has to be accepted.