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On Set with Muppets Most Wanted

Jan 09, 2014

By: Lynn Barker

Last May, your Kidzworld reporter was on location for Muppets Most Wanted. Picture this: We are standing between tracks 11 and 12 at L.A.’s famous landmark Union Station. We are in “video village” which is what filmmakers call the area with playback monitors where the director watches the scene he’s just shot. We’re given a headset so we can hear the audio and watch the action.

All the puppeteers who control the Muppets are squatting or sitting on the floor in a huddle with their Muppet puppets on their arms or hands. Their microphones are on headbands on their heads. They look like an Indian tribe around a campfire!

Muppets and filmmakers on set at Union Station in L.A.Muppets and filmmakers on set at Union Station in L.A.

Many familiar Muppets including Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band, Beaker and Dr. Melonhead, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, etc. are in the group and the shot is framed so you only see the Muppets from midsection up on screen. Of course we must never see puppeteers on screen! They aren’t supposed to exist!  

Kermit is announcing to all the other Muppets (sans Miss Piggy who isn’t in this scene) that he’s hired a train to take them on their European tour.  Every time there is noise on the set or a helicopter flies over, the puppeteer reacts and talks AS KERMIT, looking up, saying “Wow, that ruined the take. Can we shoot it down with a Gatling gun?” The Kermit puppet fits like a long glove over the puppeteer’s hand. The crew has to shoot between the noise of trains arriving and leaving.

The Muppets on their European tourThe Muppets on their European tour

Kermit’s dialogue: “Okay guys, gather ‘round. Listen up. If we’re gonna go on a world tour, I figure we should travel in classic style so I booked us a tour train! (they look). Oh no, not that train……THIS train (evidently a CGI dumpy train).  Isn’t she a beauty?”

In between shots, the Muppet costumers end up fluffing fur and Kermit’s green felt “skin,  picking lint off, grooming the puppet just like they’d groom an actor between takes. Is all this kind of bizarre? Yep but we find ourselves interacting with the puppets, not the people operating them. Kermit is “real” and moreso by the minute.

Kermit in Russian prisonKermit in Russian prison

Here comes the film’s producer Todd Lieberman to give us more info on the fun new caper film.

Kidzworld: What did you want to make sure you had in this movie that you didn’t in the last one?

  • Todd: Last time we wanted to start with an emotional story and introduce a new character (Walter) and maybe introduce the Muppets to a new generation who weren’t as familiar with them as we were. So, this movie hopefully we’ve set that basis as a good starting point so now we want to just have a boatload of fun.
  • In this movie we’re leaning a bit more on the mayhem and fun caper aspect of what the Muppets can offer and, obviously, there’s an emotional story there too. I think people will be really excited about the crazy things that go on in this movie.

Producer Todd Lieberman on set on Hollywood Blvd.Producer Todd Lieberman on set on Hollywood Blvd.

Kidzworld: Will Muppets Most Wanted stand alone or have any references to the last movie beyond Muppet Walter being in it? Gary (Jason Segal) and Mary (Amy Adams) aren’t in it.

  • Todd: This movie starts where the other movie left off. It takes an entirely new direction in where the story goes but there is a connection between the first and second, yeah.

Kidzworld: What about the music?

  • Todd: Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie is back. This movie will showcase what he can do. We’re spanning everything from a ballad to an unbelievably fun old-school musical style romp. All different kinds of music in it.

Muppets on tour performingMuppets on tour performing

Kidzworld: Will we see celebrity cameos with big stars popping in?

  • Todd: Yes but part of the fun of the cameos is you don’t know they’re coming. A lot of people want to work with the Muppets so we have an enormous array of people but their appearance has to be specific to a joke or a scene. We’ve filled the film with pretty amazing people from Oscar winners to Grammy winners.

Kidzworld: You actually shot some of this in Europe. How was that?

  • Todd: We could utilize the amazing backgrounds there. We take advantage of it. The Muppets with London’s Tower Bridge in the background look pretty darn cool! The Tower of London was a phenomenal experience. This was a location that has never allowed a major film crew inside the walls to shoot. Watching tourists seeing Muppets as they go by saying “What is going on here?” was beyond. Really special.

Ricky Gervais with MuppetsRicky Gervais with Muppets

Kidzworld: Muppet movies always seem to have cool explosions. Does anything blow up in this movie?

  • Todd: (laughs)  Oh yeah! We’ve got two really good explosions in this movie.

Check out Muppets Most Wanted in theaters March 21st!

Muppets Most Wanted PosterMuppets Most Wanted Poster