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I know I’m not alone in wanting The Muppets to be the big comeback the Muppets deserve. When the mood strikes, I will find myself quoting The Great Muppet Caper (“Thieves aren’t breathing down your neck!”) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (“Meat makes me ill, Gil.”). Will The Muppets rekindle the magic of the earlier films and The Muppet Show? Hopefully, however, it sounds like there are some Muppets veterans who aren’t so sure.
Jason Segel, who is not only one of the stars of The Muppets, but also one of the screenwriters, is known to be a huge fan of the Jim Henson created puppets. So one would think the film would be in safe hands with him. The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters ran a feature on the return of the Muppets, focusing a large portion of the article on concerns by certain writers and performers who were involved in the franchise’s creation over whether or not Segel has a “true grasp” on the Muppets as characters. As the Reporter notes, the unnamed Muppet veterans have not seen the film, but are speculating on it based on the trailers.
The concern among Muppets insiders is that Segel and director James Bobin (a writer on Da Ali G Show and Flight of the Conchords) didn't have a complete understanding of the Muppets characters or were willing to sacrifice the characters' integrity to land a joke. "They're looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story," says one.
The article cites a fart joke made by Fozzie in one of the trailers, which one Muppets veteran says is something they never would have done, calling the gag “too cheap.” Another concern (mild spoiler alert!) involves something in the script involving Kermit living in a mansion and the other Muppets being jealous of his wealth, resulting in the group splitting up:
The script "creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie," says an old Muppets hand.
That’s a tricky situation there. If Bobin, Segel and fellow screenplay co-writer Nicholas Stoller are going to bring the Muppets into the modern day world, wouldn’t it be necessary to create a back-story to set up the film? Otherwise, their only option would be to pick up where Muppets from Space left off over a decade ago (unless there's been a major update to the franchise between then and now that I'm forgetting).
Frank Oz, who is well known for his work with the Muppets over the years, having served as a Muppeteer for years, and having directed The Muppets Take Manhattan, doesn’t sound all that optimistic. As the Reporter notes, Oz told the British paper Metro that he wasn’t happy with the script, going on to say, “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.”
It wasn’t all negative from the Muppet veterans, however. As the Reporter notes, one person was able to see past the fart joke in the trailer...
But even those who are most concerned hold out hope. Looking at the latest trailer, a Muppets veteran says: "There are scenes where my heart is touched. Despite everything, the truth of these characters comes out. If we have to get through fart jokes to get there, so be it."
The article talks in some depth about the Muppets being sold to Disney and the unexpected death of Jim Henson, which surely had an impact on the future of the franchise. Whether or not Segel, Bobin and Stoller manage to bring the Muppets back to what they once were remains to be seen. Not to dismiss what could be fair and valid concerns, there's a part of me that wants to believe that the people who have expressed doubts are doing so because their devotion to the Muppets over the years makes it difficult for them to appreciate any story changes or character evolution that's going to take place. Do fart jokes make for cheap laughs? Sure, but it’s a gimmick that has stood the test of time among little boys for generations, so maybe it’s OK in moderation. Or maybe this is just my optimism coming through.
Expectations are going to be high for The Muppets, not only by those who were involved in the creation of the beloved puppets, but by those of us who hold a special place in our hearts for the furry, funny, musical puppets who made us laugh for years. While we still have about a month to wait for the film to hit theaters (November 23rd), I'm choosing to remain optimistic and hopeful that this is a true comeback for the franchise and that the Muppets will be as funny and lovable as ever.
More on The Muppets can be found in our database here. And you can read the Reporter's full article on The Muppets here. It's long, but it's definitely worth a look if you're interested in the franchise.