This week, we’re celebrating one year since Muppets Most Wanted arrived in theaters. That’s a year since we were introduced to Constantine, watched Kermit break out of jail, and saw Sam the Eagle actually get a real storyline for the first time in his feathered, patriotic life.
A few months later, when Muppets Most Wanted came out on DVD and Blu-ray, we were incredibly saddened to learn that there weren’t any commentaries or behind-the-scenes features to show off how the movie was made. We were left correcting people on Twitter who said that the movie used a lot of CGI and explaining why puppetry is still a complicated and technologically amazing art form. We felt it necessary to do our part and inform the masses!
By “masses”, we meant a room full of New Yorkers. At one of our Muppet Vault events, we invited Muppet performers Matt Vogel (Constantine, Floyd, Lew Zealand) and Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal) to join us for a live commentary. They wanted their stories to be told as much as we wanted to hear them.
Unfortunately, there was no practical way we could record their commentary and make it shareable for all of you. But lucky for you, we still recorded it (along with the muffled audio from the film, audience laughter, and a heck of a lot of ambient noise) for posterity. And now we are proud to present all of the facts we learned about Muppets Most Wanted that evening.
The best way to read this article is to follow along with your DVD or Blu-ray copy of the film. We watched the theatrical version, but the extended version will work just fine. Or if you’re like me and you’ve already seen the movie a dozen times, you could probably follow along from memory.
Now let’s get started with our Muppets Most Wanted commentary with Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson!
They also got look-alikes of all of the extras from the movie. Not a joke, they redressed the extras to match the scene from the previous movie.
“We’re Doing a Sequel” – The shot of Kermit putting the top hat on his head was outside on the Disney lot (in front of a green screen) and the exterior shot with Fozzie and Kermit was filmed on the Disney lot, too. The exterior shots of the gang outside and Piggy’s arrival on the golf cart were filmed in London. All the interiors were shot in London at Pinewood.
The fact that Piggy takes off her glasses, takes off her robe, and puts on her top hat, all while singing and dancing is an amazing piece of puppetry. It was all done in real time on camera in about five seconds.
They did as much in-camera as possible. The penguins painting the rainbow was not a practical effect.
Bret McKenzie rented out a storefront in a strip mall so he’d have a place to write the songs in LA. Eric spent some time there to rehearse.
The pool was an homage to Busby Berkeley, but also to The Great Muppet Caper.
The song was written and recorded when it was still called “The Muppets… Again”. There was talk of re-recording the end of the song, but it would’ve messed up the lip-sync.
Matt is proud to point out that Constantine’s entire fight scene is all puppetry, not CGI. Every time the puppet goes out of frame, it’s a new take, so the sequence is comprised of many different shots. The full-bodied Constantine takes four puppeteers to bring to life and there were several different versions of Constantine, each with a different function to help shoot the scene.
When Constantine is in the mud puddle, he’s really in a small pool on a sound stage (the gulag behind was added in post). Matt and two other puppeteers have their hands inside rubber gloves attached to the bottom of the pool which need to be kept elevated the entire time. If the gloves are lowered, they would fill with water, expand and explode. Which did happen once.
The original idea was that the explosion that Constantine uses to cover his escape would dissolve into the fireworks seen at the beginning of the film, which would lead into “We’re Doing a Sequel”.
When Constantine makes the phone booth explode, the airplane in the background is not actually there. It was added in post to enhance the scene.
When Dominic’s phone rings and he sees it’s Rihanna, the original line was “Lady Gaga”. They changed it when they found out that Gaga would actually appear in the movie.
The train station set was a combination of the real Union Station in Los Angeles and the Horsted Keynes Bluebell Railway station in Sussex (the same location where Downton Abbey films its train station scenes). The approach with Sweetums and the gang looking at Kermit is in LA, but when Piggy’s loading her luggage, that’s London.
None of the Muppet performers got to actually go to Madrid, Berlin, or Dublin. They had to stay in London.
“Poopenbergen” is this movie’s fart shoes. Eric – “Why is it always Fozzie who gets those lines?”
They filmed all of the theater scenes in one theater and redressed it for each new city. The theater was a raised set at Pinewood Studios, except in certain scenes in which real theaters around London were used, mostly to see the audiences.
They filmed Miss Piggy’s Celine Dion lines before knowing for sure if Dion would be in the movie.
Eric and Steve Whitmire worked closely with director James Bobin on this scene to make sure that the characters remained true to themselves. They wanted to make Kermit and Piggy’s argument believable and emotional, but also funny and charming. Piggy got to be absurd, which lets you sympathize with Kermit even when he blows up at her. Meanwhile, Matt liked the moment when Kermit moves his chair back before standing up—it’s a nice piece of puppetry that looks effortless and makes you believe Kermit’s really sitting in a chair.
Dominic seems so genuine and sincere, even Eric is falling for it. Matt reminds him: “He’s not.”
The scene is an homage to The Third Man.
Again, Constantine is real, not CGI, as he jumps around the scene.
When Constantine applies green makeup to hide his mole, what’s actually happening is this: There’s a small magnet in Constantine’s finger. When he touches the mole, he’s removing it from his face. Movie magic!
The scene where Constantine introduces himself as Kermit to the Muppet troupe was Matt’s first scene filmed, which was very intimidating, both for introducing the character and working with Ricky Gervais.
Since Eric plays so many key characters, the big group scenes are like “a game of musical chairs”. He films with Piggy, then switches places so he can read a line as Fozzie, and then switches around again to perform Animal.
A few seconds into “I’m Number One”, during the line “You may think that you’re smarter, but I’m smarterer than you,” there are two Constantine puppets being used. One in the background, and another just behind Ricky’s back. Bill Barretta performed the Constantine in the background.
Once again, Constantine’s full-bodied scenes are not CGI. The puppeteers are wearing blue suits that cover their entire bodies, and they’re actually performing with Ricky Gervais on the set. Then the puppeteers are erased.
This scene took just a couple days to film.
Ricky Gervais is not actually tap dancing. This fact surprised no one.
Jerry Nelson’s Muppet Show introduction was an unused take from the previous Muppet movie.
Matt is also performing Crazy Harry (with another performer filling in as Sweetums), while Louise Gold is assisting by performing Harry’s plunger.
The museum break-in scene was filmed at the Freemason’s Hall in London.
The train set was equipped with a hydraulic lift that would shake the set to simulate the train’s movement. They only used it sparingly, because it make all the performers seasick.
Matt and Eric warned our audience to never go to Upper Heyford, where they filmed the gulag scenes. It was a nice place to work, but very cold, and they shot everything there outside. They brought a bunch of fake snow with them, but they didn’t need it. They really felt like they were in Siberia. Now that’s method!
Matt and Eric were incredibly impressed with the songwriting. They comment on the clever lyrics, the fact that they’re written in so many different genres, and they have the heart of Paul Williams’ Muppet songs.
Matt was not present for “The Big House” sequence. He was shooting something somewhere else, but he commented on James Bobin’s directing style when there were multiple shoots going on at once, and how he would be constantly alternating and giving his approval.
The indoor segments of the Gulag were filmed in Pinewood Studios in London.
Matt and Tina Fey used the same dialect coach to help with their accents.
Eric ad-libbed Miss Piggy’s “Stupid train!” Matt and Eric had fun coming up with the moment where Constantine hushes Piggy with his finger.
David Rudman performed the “Thingy Thing”.
Mak Wilson performed Constantine’s hands, which was a difficult job, since he had to make it look like he was actually grabbing the ring, pillow, mortgage loan, etc.
This was a difficult scene for Eric, because he had to make it look like Piggy was slowly falling for Constantine without saying a word, which is uncharacteristic for her.
There was originally a big montage scene where you see all the things Constantine let the Muppets get away with. But then they realized that the Muppets already kind of do what they want as it is, so the scene didn’t seem so out-of-place.
Just after the theme song, you can see Fozzie in the background playing baseball with a baguette.
The running of the bulls scene – There’s only one bull puppet, filmed multiple times. The bull was performed by Tyler Bunch. In the original script, we never saw the bulls.
When Miss Piggy sings “Macarena”, Bill Barretta and Peter Linz are performing the flamingos’ heads, while Matt is performing both flamingos’ bodies to make them dance. Matt is lying on the floor between the flamingos in the picture there—but they erased him in post.
Ed Mitchell, who writes most of the music for the Muppets, wrote a real 10 1/2-minute long jam for the Electric Mayhem, including a solo for each band member. The entire jam was actually filmed.
When the story element of the Muppets in Dublin was revealed, the entire city of Dublin got really excited, not knowing that the Muppets wouldn’t actually be filming in Ireland.
It was really important to Ty Burrell to not do an Inspector Clouseau impression in his performance as Jean Pierre Napoleon.
Le Maximum, Jean’s car, is a real working car. Ty Burrell really drives it. In its first appearance, Ty drives it out of the parking lot and out of shot. He was supposed to stop, but he kept going out into the street. Several members of the crew shouted, “No, Ty! Stop! It’s not street legal!”
Sometimes Eric is in the car, sometimes the incredibly talented, but smaller, Mak Wilson is performing Sam. There’s no false bottom to the car, the puppeteer really has to cram himself in there.
Matt is performing Fozzie while Bill Barretta performs Fozzie’s right hand, which is playing with the desk lamp in the background while Jean and Sam sing the end of the song.
Eric points out that the Sam/Jean story is really a love story. “They have a meet-cute at the beginning…”
One of the words Constantine says while practicing his karate chop is “donut” in Russian.
The Russian choir in the background of some of Constantine’s scenes are singing “Putin! Dostoyevsky!” and other Russian words.
Danny Trejo is a sweetheart, and he was totally taken with Miss Piggy.
Just past the halfway point, this is when the Muppets start to become the protagonists in their own movie.
Eric is really excited for Peter Linz’s newfound success with Walter, but he’s also sad because Peter used to be Eric’s go-to guy to double his characters. For example, Peter would perform Fozzie while Eric was busy with Piggy.
Eric pointed out the difficulty of the scene where Walter grabs Fozzie’s necktie. It looks natural, but since Walter has rod-controlled hands, it wasn’t so easy.
In Constantine’s room, his suitcase originally had guns, not bombs. It was changed at the last minute, but they didn’t reshoot the scene, just the contents of the suitcase, which were digitally placed over the guns in post.
After Robin’s cameo, Eric points out that Robin may not have been in the previous movie because they couldn’t explain his young age if the Muppets had been apart for over 20 years. Or possibly because they didn’t want to explain that Kermit abandoned his nephew.
When Fozzie, Walter, and Animal are walking through the desert/tundra, it took several puppeteers per character to make them walk.
Originally, Miss Piggy didn’t sing “My Heart Will Go On”. She sang a Kelly Clarkson song, but it was changed to fit the Celine Dion motif.
There was a running gag where Constantine flips Scooter every time he sees him. Every instance of the gag except one was cut.
Both Matt and Eric’s favorite joke in the movie is when Ty Burrell says, “The comedian bear is planning on stealing the Tower of London – The Crown Jewels…”
There was a little hesitation if they’d perform the song sincerely or for laughs.
When Kermit meets Fozzie, Walter, and Animal in the Gulag, it was filmed late at night in zero degree weather. Later, they had to reshoot a segment of the scene, but they got to do it from a nice, warm indoor studio. “Why did we have to do it outside to begin with???”
While the Tower of London interiors were shot at Pinewood, the exteriors were actually filmed at the real Tower of London, where getting permission to shoot is very rare. Thankfully, it happened on one of only a couple sunny days during the shoot.
The breaking mirror in Constantine’s room is CGI. A rare CGI example for Muppets Most Wanted.
In the mirror gag, Kermit and Constantine were too in-sync to realize there were two different frogs, so they had to slow down one of the frogs by just a few frames to make it look less like an actual mirror.
The flat Fozzie was a real puppet, altered only slightly to make him look flatter.
In the scene were the babies are introduced, Bill Barretta stood up from the puppeteers’ pit and accidentally hit his head on a camera and had to be taken to the hospital. He missed the rest of that day’s shoot.
Ricky Gervais couldn’t keep a straight face around the babies. So of course, the puppeteers tried to make him break as much as possible.
When Fozzie and Kermit lift the tiny car, Fozzie is performed by a child wearing Fozzie-leg pants.
While a small part of the church scene was filmed in a real church, most of the scenes were shot on a set at Pinewood—using the same raised puppeteer deck as the theater sets, that had already been shot.
When asked about Piggy’s costumes, Eric’s favorite outfit for Piggy to wear was whichever was the lightest. His least favorite was the wedding dress, because it was heavy and bulky and he couldn’t see what he was doing.
After the wedding sequence, there was an additional song called “We Did It”, just after Beaker and the bomb explode outside the window. The lyrics are, “We did it/We made it through”, and then everybody had a line. When they got to Miss Piggy’s line, she didn’t sing anything and they’d discover that she was missing. The song was written and recorded, but never filmed.
In the helicopter on the roof, Constantine says “The Lemur is literally the worst bad guy name I have ever heard.” Originally, the line they shot was, “You are literally the worst number two I’ve ever had,” and the new line was dubbed over. Matt wasn’t too happy with the loop because he’d deliberately made a different mouth shape for anytime Constantine said the word “two” and the new line didn’t have the word “two” in it.
The helicopter scene was originally much longer. The Muppet ladder catches the helicopter, and Sweetums is lifted off the ground. Sam grabs Sweetums’ legs and Jean grabs Sam’s legs, and Kermit has to climb the ladder to get back up to the helicopter.
Eric points out that Sam and Jean have no purpose in the movie. They don’t save the day, they don’t provide any exposition, they’re always a step behind the action. They’re just fun to watch.
Originally, Nadya arrests Kermit and the rest of the Muppets as accomplices, and the finale would have them all performing “Together Again… Again” as prisoners. It was reshot to make it more heartwarming, and a little less depressing.
When Kermit announces that the Muppets will be playing a show in Siberia, it’s difficult to hear it, but Miss Piggy says that she’s going to pack her swimsuit. She has no idea what she’s in for.
Part of why the human guest stars look so unconvincing against the wall is because they were not actually leaning against anything. The Muppets were shot through a real wall, while the actors just tried to hold a pose. Also, a lot of them were not familiar with the song.
Matt as Lew Zealand really threw a fish into the camera lens. Which is actually really difficult when you’re two feet below the camera. He only nailed the shot once, but it was enough to make it into the film.
Many, many (many!) thanks to Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson for sharing their thoughts and stories with us. We’re glad to be doing our part to get your commentaries out to the fans.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com