AFTER a long absence from our screens — save for a few TV movies and internet sketches — Jim Henson’s ‘sensational, inspirational, celebrational’ pop culture icons the Muppets are back with a Disney-financed movie.
Entitled The Muppets, the film is an affectionate, self-referential musical comedy (with tunes from Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie) about the old crew’s attempts to save their beloved Muppet Theatre from being destroyed by an evil oil baron (Chris Cooper).
Last week, the brand’s golden couple, Kermit and Miss Piggy, were in London to publicise the film. Kermit, affable and cheery, was on time and happy to be there, but ‘her nibs’ made us wait.
When she arrived, Piggy blithely made her excuses. “I’ve been working so very hard since I got to London,” she said, before Kermit interrupted. “Yes, at Harrods, Harvey Nicks, Camden Market…” he said wryly.
“That is hard work,” Piggy said. “Sometimes, the escalator doesn’t work and you have to actually climb the stairs.”
After all these decades together it doesn’t take much to set these two off bickering. They’ve kept the vital spark alive in their relationship, so what’s their secret?
“Compliance,” Kermit said, half-jokingly.
Piggy said: “My advice for any woman looking to trap a man is: make sure the trap fits the man’s body shape. For example, Kermy is very skinny, so a bear-trap wouldn’t work in his case.”
Kermit was doing his utmost to keep Piggy’s snout out of hot-button topics and limit controversy. That failed miserably, alas, when a video clip from the Muppets’ London press conference, in which Piggy dissed Fox News, went viral.
Piggy isn’t afraid to tackle contentious matters, like phone-hacking. “I have no problem with wire-tapping and bugging,” she said.
“I actually have a GPS chip on Kermit.”
As a major star, and a plus-size editor of French Vogue, does she worry that her own phone was hacked?
She seems dumbstruck at the idea. “Wow. I never thought of it working the other way around,” she said. Another example: would Piggy, a strong, powerful, career-oriented female, consider herself a feminist?
“I don’t call myself a feminist or identify with any movement that takes the focus off of moi, or doesn’t promote my agenda,” she said, coolly.
At that point, a nervous Kermit steered the interview back to the topic of the movie.
What’s refreshing about The Muppets is that it makes no bones about the felt creatures’ diminished stock. “We’re portrayed as bottom-of-the-barrel losers,” said Kermit cheerfully. “There’s an element of truth to that and always will be. We’ve done a lot of stuff over the years, but it has been a long time since we did a film. So it’s the kind of project that puts you back on the map. It’s not exactly a reboot, but it gets the gang back together.”
The involvement of the movie’s co-star and writer, Jason Segel, was pivotal, though there was another crucial element that had to trot into place first.
“The movie only really started when moi came onto set,” said Miss Piggy.
“I didn’t read a script. I don’t do that with any of my movies. I just walk on and say whatever I feel like. I think that works best.”
Finally, to end on a positive note in keeping with the uplifting message of The Muppets, what’s the best piece of life advice that Kermit, an eternally positive chap, can impart after all his years of experience?
“Try to find a way to do what you enjoy doing and still survive, if you can,” he said. “Or, if you can’t, find a way to survive and learn to enjoy it.”
* The Muppets (Walt Disney Studios) opens nationwide tomorrow
1. ‘Mahna-Mahna’: The most iconic — and earworm — moment in Muppet history.
2. ‘Rainbow Connection’: This poignant Kermit number – from the 1979 Muppet Movie — nails the essential poignancy and sweetness at the heart of the Muppet empire.
3. ‘Bein’ Green’: Kermit’s signature tune that has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra, to, most recently, Irish Glee star Damian McGinty.
4. Nureyev in the sauna: Holy Maracas! Sexual carnivore Miss Piggy gets steamy with Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev in a sauna as they duet ‘It’s Cold Outside’.
5. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’: Needless to say Piggy hijacks the song as a tribute to herself.
6. The Muppet Christmas Carol: Arguably the Muppets’ last great outing before fading into obscurity. Michael Caine is wonderfully game as Scrooge.
7. Elton John’s guest appearance: The Rocket Man has a laugh performing ‘Crocodile Rock’, which upsets amphibian-in-chief Kermit no end.
8. Irish blarney: The Swedish Chef, Animal and Beaker perform their own take on ‘Danny Boy’.
9. Wonder Pig: With Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, as a guest star, Piggy, not to be outdone, donned the famous stars and stripes bustier to become Wonder Pig.
10. Guest star Roger Moore finished his episode’s closing number – a version of ‘Talk to the Animals’ — by kicking the stuffing out of several Muppets.