November 21, 2011
The world is bracing itself for the explosion of Muppet adoration that's going to burst all over everything in an avalanche of felt and chicken feathers when The Muppets opens on Wednesday. I thought I'd point out a few things about the funny and ingeniously creative marketing campaign, which has been so good it makes me a little worried that the movie can't possibly live up to my expectations.
The parody trailers. My favorite is "The Pig With the Froggy Tattoo", a funny take on the greatest trailer I've seen all year, the one for David Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake that still gets me so revved up I want to hurl a golf club at a serial rapist every time I see it. They also came out with a pretty good Bollywood one a week or two ago.
This morning NPR's Susan Stamberg did a good interview with some Muppeteers about the technical aspects of their work (lots of squatting, no CGI) and some of the voice actors about their characters. The funniest part is a segment with Muppet captain Bill Barretta, who does the voice for Rawlf, the Swedish Chef, and new character Pepe the Prawn. He based Pepe's outrageous accent (which I assumed was Cajun) on his wife's Spanish aunt: "She only spoke in statements. 'Iz a black shirt, OK. Come on, Beulah, we go to the mall, OK.' That's what she said all the time: 'OK,' at the end of everything."
Over the weekend, the Times released a video of Bret McKenzie, of "Flight of the Conchords" fame, singing his Muppets theme song "Life's a Happy Song" with Kermit--if the movie itself is this sweet and unpredictable and weird ("Life's a taco!") it's going to be as good as we all hope.
But the real question while watching all the ads: What about Frank Oz? The voice of Kermit hasn't been Jim Henson since he died in 1990--it's been Steve Whitmire since then, and he comes pretty close to the original.
But Frank Oz is alive and well. He was also, I just learned, writing his own Muppet movie script when Disney went forward with the Jason Segel-written one. Oz decided not to be part of the movie, saying he doesn't like Segel's script: "I don't think they respected the characters." Other veteran Muppeteers seem to agree, and some said they thought about taking their names off the movie.
You know what really bugged them? Fozzie's fart shoes. They're featured loudly in the trailers. "We wouldn't do that," a veteran Muppeteer said, "it's too cheap."
I agree, fart jokes aren't exactly Muppet orthodoxy, though I guess you could argue that Fozzie's always making bad dumb jokes. I still have faith.
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