By Jordan Smith
2011's The Muppets was the franchise's coming out party to a new generation of fans, and director James Bobin helmed that film as a love letter to all things felt. For the upcoming sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, the Muppets are going global. There's a case of mistaken identity keeping Kermit the Frog locked away, while an imposter-frog has taken his place, and it's up to the rest of the Muppets to save him. We sat down with Bobin to talk about how the director kept his sequel true to the franchise's roots, the hidden struggles of filming puppets in the real world, and which Muppet is his absolute favorite.
Bobin isn't interested in cramming in too many elements from the classic Muppet movies into his newest project, and it seems that the director wants to carve out a unique chapter into the Muppets saga. So while there aren’t a ton of references to the older movies in Muppets Most Wanted, the director still wants to do right by the long line of films that came before, and ensure that the Muppets still feel like the Muppets, saying, “We really wanted to honor what those early movies felt like and, it’s a great blend of fun, mayhem, craziness. At the same time, there is an emotional core of family and that was the balance that we wanted in that first movie and there’s gonna be a similar balance in this one.” It also doesn't hurt to have Bret McKenzie, half of Flight of the Concords, crafting kooky and award winning music for the film. Bobin goes on to say, “We have the added benefit of our Oscar winning composer and songwriter. So he’s writing all the songs in this movie too. When you do a movie with Muppets that are just funny to look at, and you juxtapose that and blend it with the kinds of music that Bret’s writing them, again, we’re spanning the gamut here.”
Along with McKenzie adding his weird and wonderful music to the Muppet's latest adventure, the film is also filled with celebrities rubbing elbows with Kermit and Ms. Piggy, but according to Bobin, you couldn't just bribe your way onto the set. Each cameo had to fit the film's tone perfectly. "There was no scenario in which we said this person wants to do it and we’re gonna squeeze a cameo in for them. It’s gotta be organic and it has to just feel right," the director explained. The film being so selective about who shows up and who doesn't will pay off in the final cut, according to Bobin: "I think the great part of the cameos is when you’re watching a movie and you have no idea what’s coming and all of a sudden there’s this famous face who might seamlessly blend into the scene or might be completely opposite of what you think the scene’s gonna be. So there’s a lot of those and we run the gamut from Grammy Award winning musicians all the way to Oscar winning actors and everything in between. It’s gonna be a very eclectic, interesting mix of people who would never otherwise be in a film together."
Adding yet another chapter to the long history of Muppet films isn't all fun and games, however. There are actually a load of issues to contend with when most of your principle cast is 2 feet tall and made out of fuzz. "One of the challenges is shooting the Muppets around real life," said Bobin, "[is that] for most of the movie we’re shooting them on stages where we build three and a half feet off the ground so the floors are puppet-able and easy for the puppeteers to move around. When you’re in and around regular life and the regular world it’s a little more challenging to frame the Muppets in the world without squishing a bunch of people in the ground."
While Bobin clearly had a great time bringing all of the Muppets to the big screen for a second time, that doesn't mean he's above playing favorites. "I'm very partial to Fozzie," he revealed, "he’s got such a sweet innocence and a lot of times, people tell me I think I'm funny when I'm not so maybe I feel like I'm partly him. He looks funny and I just love him."