Muppet's Most Wanted Production Notes
Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” takes the entire Muppets gang on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid, Dublin and London. But mayhem follows the Muppets overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine—the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit the Frog—and his dastardly sidekick Dominic, aka Number Two, portrayed by Ricky Gervais. The film stars Ty Burrell as Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon, and Tina Fey as Nadya, a feisty prison guard.
“It’s an old-style caper movie,” says director James Bobin (Disney’s “The Muppets,” “Flight of the Conchords”). “Muppet movies often have very classic movie tropes, and the evil doppelganger—a bad-guy, evil-frog, Kermit-the-Frog look-alike—seemed like such a fun premise for the Muppets’ next film.”
Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” is produced by David Hoberman (“Warm Bodies,” “The Proposal”) and Todd Lieberman (“The Fighter,” “Warm Bodies”). Bobin wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller (“The Neighbors,” “The Five-Year Engagement”), who is also executive producer with John G. Scotti (Disney’s “The Muppets,” “The Incredible Hulk”).
“The audience really embraced the Muppets with our big-screen come-back two years ago,” says Lieberman. “They love the Muppets like we all did growing up—Kermit and the gang are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. We realized that there was a lot of enthusiasm for these characters so we wanted to bring them back—but with a completely different story and all-new human cast.”
“It takes a special actor to work with the Muppets,” adds Hoberman. “There has to be a passion for these characters, a genuine belief in them and an appreciation for their performances. Ricky, Ty and Tina all have a natural rapport with Kermit, Piggy and the gang—which shows on screen. It would be impossible to pull off a movie like this without the right chemistry.”
Bobin says the cast and filmmakers may have created an all new genre for “Muppets Most Wanted.” “We have comedy. We have a caper. And we have songs. To me, it’s an action-comedy-musical—and I don’t think there are many of those around.”
Featuring music from Academy Award®-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie (Disney’s “The Muppets,” “Flight of the Conchords”), “Muppets Most Wanted” hits the big screen March 28, 2014.
Constructing An Action-Comedy-Musical
Filmmakers Venture to the Dark Side for New Muppets Adventure
“In film, I am Number One Criminal,” says Constantine, who joins the Muppets for the first time in “Muppets Most Wanted.” “I have a secret plan with Number Two to steal the crown jewels of London. This plot has never been done before—well, at least not with Muppets.”
According to director James Bobin, a caper of this magnitude needed to be set in an international locale. “If you’re going to do a ’60s-style caper, it needs a world setting and Europe gives it that classic feel. London, Madrid, Berlin and Dublin are the places to go if you’re going to steal great treasures.”
The whole Muppets gang returns to the big screen for “Muppets Most Wanted.” “That’s one of the great things about the Muppets,” says Bobin, “you have so many to play with and you want to do them all justice—so we were happy everyone could be part of the international tour. They pile into a old timey, dilapidated circus train together and travel through Europe.”
Convinced by dubious tour manager Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to take on the overseas tour, the Muppets are excited to perform in the biggest and best theaters Europe has to offer. But always the ribbit of reason, Kermit has his doubts and is reluctant to tackle such lofty venues. His troubles only get worse when his evil double leaps onto the scene. “Constantine escapes from prison and swaps places with Kermit,” says Bobin. “Kermit ends up getting mistaken for the Number One Criminal and thrown in a Russian prison in northernmost Siberia, whilst the tour carries on with Constantine posing as Kermit.”
Kermit encounters some shady characters—and cool cameos—while in prison, and tries to convince his captors of his true identity. But Nadya (Tina Fey), perhaps the feistiest prison guard in Siberia, keeps him on his flippers. Says Bobin, “I thought it would be good to have a character who’s quite tough, but secretly soft on the inside. Nadya has a bit of a crush on Kermit because he’s a very charming frog.”
With Kermit out of the way, Number One and Number Two are free to pursue their evil plan. But hot on their trail are Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell), a laid-back Interpol agent, and Sam Eagle, a slightly more driven CIA agent. They don’t exactly see eye to eye, but must work together to solve the crime.
According to Bobin, the three comedy couples—Constantine and Dominic, Kermit and Nadia, Jean Pierre and Sam Eagle—form the engine that drives the global adventure.
Costume Designer Rahel Afiley Dresses the Diva (and Everyone Else)
Costume designer Rahel Afiley is no stranger to Muppets. She served in the same role for Disney’s “The Muppets” in 2011. “It’s a lot easier this time,” she says. “I knew what to expect: what looks good on humans doesn’t necessarily look good on Muppets.”
Color is key, for obvious reasons, when it comes to Muppets—and humans, too, says Afiley. The wardrobe for Ricky Gervais’ character Dominic, for example, got slightly darker as his character’s criminal escapades escalated.
While Dominic’s attire consisted of more traditionally styled suits, Jean Pierre Napoleon’s wardrobe adopted the agent’s European flavor. “His character has that ’60s-style French cool thing going on,” says Afiley. “We went with more burgundy and royal blues for him.”
The costume designer was careful to consider which Muppets would be on set with their human counterparts. Ty Burrell’s wardrobe had to complement Sam Eagle’s coloring, for example. And Tina Fey wasn’t likely to wear Kermit green—not that her prison-guard garb would’ve called for it. “Tina’s wardrobe is a prison guard uniform—but tailored with a feminine touch,” says Afiley.
Speaking of feminine, perhaps Afiley’s most important wardrobe role involved a precocious pig with notable needs. “The rest of the Muppets don’t compare to Miss Piggy when it comes to wardrobe,” she says. “Miss Piggy requires a lot of designing. In this film, she has at least 23 changes, which is more than any Muppet or human. It’s actually more than all the humans combined. She’s quite a diva.”
"Muppets Most Wanted" Goes Global
Production Designer Eve Stewart Makes Muppets Magic
With the international locale and the unique requirements of the Muppets, production designer Eve Stewart had her work cut out for her. But she says she approached the project like any other. “My job is to bring the script to life by creating a world for these characters.”
The film was shot in part at London’s Pinewood Studios, where Stewart constructed sets that met the unique requirements of the Muppets. According to Stewart, there is a wide range of sizes for the characters in a film like “Muppets Most Wanted”—Kermit is a little over 2-feet tall, while Sweetums is almost 7-feet tall. “It’s certainly an endeavor to get the two to marry completely. Certain things, like doorknobs, have to be placed strategically to accommodate human characters and Muppets. We were constantly playing with scale.”
But Stewart says her greatest objective was to ensure that the Muppets looked good. “We were constantly thinking of how we could make them—particularly Miss Piggy—look their absolute best,” she says. “We had to be very careful with colors and textures and avoid anything that would clash or make them disappear—Kermit’s not a chameleon, so we avoid green completely, for example.”
The production also went on location, pursuing tricky sites and braving England’s weather. “It seems Mother Nature is a fan of the Muppets,” says producer David Hoberman. “There were a few exterior shots that called for sunshine—a bit of a rarity in that part of the world. But when we needed sunny weather, England obliged.”
The team captured the essence of its European backdrop by shooting in locales like a Dublin train station. “It’s not easy finding an abandoned steam train that’s rotting,” says Stewart. “We were diligent. We had to persuade them to drag the trains out and let us paint them.”
England’s Upper Heyford’s bleak airfield was transformed into the Russian Gulag. The weather proved Siberian, too, reaching minus eight degrees Celsius during the three-day shoot. “We wanted to represent someplace daunting and somewhat fearful to a frog,” says Stewart. “We looked at old films and tried to create something that looked run down with an institutional color.”
For the film’s finale, filmmakers ventured into a locale that few productions are allowed to access—the Tower of London. Says producer Todd Lieberman, “I was told that this was the first time ever a proper film crew has been let inside the way we were allowed to film inside the walls, which I think is pretty special.”
“We weren’t allowed to touch a brick, understandably,” adds Stewart. “They’re usually really strict, but luckily the woman who runs it likes the Muppets even more than James Bond, so they opened the doors and said ‘Come on in.’”
Stewart and the filmmakers tied the studio and location scenes together with a nod to crime stories of the past. “Both James [Bobin] and I really love the ‘60s and ‘70s crime capers—so a lot of that is figured into the look of the film,” she says. “We tried to give the Muppets a framework in which they could perform that’s realistic, but heightened. You’ve got to believe that they are in peril, but able to break into a massive song-and-dance number. The experience has been brilliant.”