The Segel Saga: A Timeline of “The Muppets”

Published: August 13, 2011
Categories: Feature, Fun Stuff

It takes a long time to get a movie made.

Guess how long it’s been since we first heard that How I Met Your Mother co-star and Forgetting Sarah Marshall star/writer Jason Segel had pitched a script for a new Muppet movie? Eighteen months? Two years? Try three and a half years. That means there will be small children whose parents take them to see The Muppets who weren’t even born yet when it was first announced. We Muppet fans have gone through a lot in that stretch of time — plot synopsis teases, title confusion, celebrity cameos that both thrilled and disappointed us, and excruciating silent periods where there was no news at all and we thought the movie might never even happen.

As of today, there are 101 days until the movie is released and “Muppet domination” grips the globe.  At this point, honestly, I’d be satisfied if the movie never actually came out.  Just a few years ago, I had decided that if the Muppets were to retire altogether from making new stuff, I would accept it, embrace my Muppet DVD collection, and move on. But then came the announcement of the new movie, and my fan morale started rising.  Seeing all the set photos and rumors and trailers, and watching the hugely positive reaction from geeks and casual fans alike has made me pretty darn happy… Just riding that movie-hype elevator up to the lofty observation deck of optimism has been terrific.  So I don’t even need to see the movie.  Does anyone want my ticket?

On second thought, I guess I’ll probably see it.  On opening day.  Four times.

And now let’s get to the point of this article: Come with with me now on a journey to the past, as I visit every significant moment from The Muppets’ long road to the screen… and click the links to be whisked away to the corresponding TP news and commentary articles!

March 13, 2008: The first news about the project hits the Tough Pigs forum, via a Cinema Blend report that says Jason Segel and Nick Stoller are writing a new Muppet movie for Disney, to be be directed by Stoller. This is even before the release of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so we don’t yet know Segel is a Muppet fan. Most of us are understandably skeptical… It’s been nine years since a theatrical Muppet movie, and we’ve pretty much resigned ourselves to only ever seeing them pop up on TV on rare occasions. A lot of us figure we’ll never hear about this so-called Jason Segel Muppet movie again. We don’t even bother to learn how his last name is spelled.

And yet, the rumors persist…

May 2008: Tough Pigs’ Michal Richardson sees Forgetting Sarah Marshall and writes an article speculating as to whether Segel was the right man for the Muppet job.

June 2008: Tough Pigs’ Ryan Roe (me!) posts “The Jason Segel FAQ,” a single article addressing all of our burning questions about the movie. It’s not actually very helpful, though, because nobody knows anything about it yet. (Although I still think my made-up synopsis for Muppets Underwater was pretty good.)

August 2008: New rumblings begin circulating the world wide web, suggesting that Jason Segel will in fact soon be involved in developing a new Muppet TV series! Tough Pigs’  Joe Hennes tackles the rumor; he concludes that it certainly is a rumor.

September 2008: Joe spends a day on the Brooklyn location of A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, where producer Kevin Frawley expresses confidence that the new movie is really going to happen, and it will be in theaters in 2010. We all turn our optimism dials up exactly one notch.

December 2008: Letters to Santa airs on TV. This is the first time we’ve seen a major new Muppet production since the putrid Studio DC, and it will be the last until the new movie. It’s nice to see Muppets in our living rooms again, but it kind of seems like they forgot that Muppets are supposed to be funny. Also, Gonzo is sad a lot. In the weeks, months, and years to come, a lot ouf our discussion about the prospective film will include sentences that begin, “As long as Jason Segel writes the characters better than they were in Letters to Santa…”

And then we fast forward to…

March 2009: Joe gets his mitts on a draft of the film’s script, which bears the title The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time. He has some positive things and some critical things to say about the script, which has the same basic plot as the movie that will end up getting made. (Confession: I didn’t read Joe’s review, because I didn’t want to be spoiled.)

September 2009: At D23, Disney’s giant convention/celebration/hullabaloo, it is announced that the next Muppet film will be called… The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made. This is the title of an unfinished concept that Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl played around with back in the day, so it’s surprising to hear that Jason Segel is now working on this script instead of his new one. But there’s a logo for it and everything. And there is much confusion in the land.

January 2010: Up to this point, we’ve heard that Segel’s buddy, co-writer, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nick Stoller will be helming the new Muppet film. But now news emerges that Flight of the Conchords co-creator James Bobin just might be the man in the director’s chair. (Did we ever find out why Stoller was removed from that role? Also, an interesting thing I had completely forgotten: The reports said Bobin was facing a choice between the Muppet movie and Bridesmaids. Do you think he made the right decision? Would Bridesmaids have benefited from a cameo by Marvin Suggs?)

February 2010: The Playlist blog reviews a draft of the script… which is still called The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time. What’s going on here?! Are they switching titles? Are they making two movies? WILL ANYTHING EVER MAKE SENSE AGAIN?!?!

May 2010: Muppet Studios general manager Lylle Breier talks to MTV’s movie blog, confirming that the project is moving forward, and it’s Jason Segel & Nick Stoller’s Greatest Muppet Movie script. Thanks, Lylle! Now I can sleep.

Later in May 2010: But how could anyone possibly sleep after hearing the news that there’s been a table read of the script, with the Muppet performers! As if this tidbit doesn’t already have us doing cartwheels in our kitchens, this is also the first time we hear that Uncle Deadly will be in the movie, which TOTALLY BLOWS OUR MINDS. Joe posts his thoughts on the implication that this movie thing is actually, for-real, totally happening.

June 2010: Having finished our cartwheels, we all begin doing somersaults upon learning that Disney has decided on a release date for the movie: December 25, 2011. Hey, that’s Christmas! I write a rather upbeat post about how encouraging the release date is, and I wonder how likely it is that James Bobin’s Flight of the Conchords pals Bret MacKenzie and Jemaine Clement will be involved with the songs. (Oooh, when you read that now it’s like foreshadowing!)

September 2010: Nick Stoller tells Movieweb that the new movie is still moving forward and is “eight weeks out.” We’re thrilled to hear this. We could only be more thrilled if we had any idea what that meant.

October 2010: Various sources report the prospect of Amy Adams co-starring in the movie. Which is great, because she’s wonderful and talented and our second-favorite redhead, after Scooter.

And then the sky opens up, and for months it pours celebrity casting rumors: Rashida Jones and Chris Cooper!  Zach Galifianakis! Alan Arkin and Michael Cera! Ricky Gervais and Emily Blunt, who are both British! Mickey Rooney, who is not British! Dave Grohl, a professional Foo Fighter! Danny Trejo, who may or may not fight Foo in his spare time! Eddie Pepitone, whose last name makes me think of Pepsodent! Rico Rodriguez! Kathy Griffin, who still has plenty of time to end up on the cutting room floor!  A zillion other people!  Paul Rudd is briefly mentioned, but then he refutes the rumors.  Poor guy.

Can everyone rumored to appear in The Muppets possibly fit into one movie?  Heck, they might not all be able to fit in a movie theater!  Haw haw!

October 29, 2010: We get the news we’ve all been waiting for: Filming has begun!  Wow.

November 2010: We get our first glimpse of Walter in Entertainment Weekly‘s now-famous two-page spread featuring the cast of the movie chillin’ with Segel. By this point, it’s been confirmed that the new title of the movie is The Muppets, which is nice and simple, but which still seems boring and makes me wonder whether I need an apostrophe when using it as a possessive.

We’re also hearing rumblings that Walter will be voiced by Michael Cera.  There’s some weird backlash against Walter among some of the fans, especially considering all we have is one photo. Several entertainment blogs, desperate for something to pad their reports, referred to Walter as “the tech-savvy new Muppet” presumably based solely on the fact that he’s holding an iPhone.  I post a breakdown of the important new tidbits we glean from the photo.

Later in November 2010: Not long after film begins, photos pop up online of the Muppet Studios set. The actual Jim Henson Studios lot is converted effectively into a rusty, dilapidated version of itself. This is also where we first see pictures of Walter on set, and based on the back of the puppeteer’s head, we speculate that he’s being played by Peter Linz. (Man, hasn’t it been fun piecing information together like this?)

December 2010: The movie gets a new release date: Thanksgiving!  We begin brainstorming ways to stave off tryptophan-induced sleepiness so we can stay awake for the movie.

Later in December 2010: As news about the movie trickles in, I’ve been nervous for a long time about the fact that no announcement has been made regarding songwriters. The Muppets have to sing in a Muppet movie; it’s just what they do, like Kristen Stewart touching her hair (AM I RIGHT, TWIHARDS?) So I breathe a sigh of relief when Bret McKenzie confirms in an interview that he’s written songs (and is serving as “musical supervisor”) for the movie.

Even later in December 2010: Speaking of announcements that make us breathe sighs of relief… We learn that Peter Linz is in fact the puppeteer for Walter, and his own voice will be the one used for the character. All of which makes me wonder: How did that Michael Cera rumor get started in the first place? Did his sneaky agent plant the story?

January 2011: The new year brings new reasons to get excited, as the Muppets set Hollywood Boulevard a-buzzing with a full night of filming in front of the El Capitan Theater, including a big dance number. We have to pinch ourselves when we see Thog in the crowd. It’s like the return of an old friend you never thought you’d see again, if that friend had long since deteriorated to crumbling hunk of puppet toast, only to be resurrected in an artist’s workshop.

Tough Pigs’ own Wilson Swain is right there in spitting distance of the shoot, and files a report from his onlooker’s vantage point.

February 2011: We get yet another celebrity cameo rumor, one that makes perfect sense: The Fairy Shoeperson himself, Neil Patrick Harris, is said to make an appearance.

Later in February 2011: Word has it that a brand-new Toy Story short will be paired with The Muppets.  As if we needed a reason to get the theater early.

March 2011: Jason Segel and Amy Adams, two Muppets stars who don’t fit in an overhead luggage bin, travel to Las Vegas for CinemaCon, a trade show for the movie industry.  They talk about the movie and show a few clips… and this is where we first hear that there will be four new songs in the movie. Yay!

April 2011: Steve Whitmire (and Kermit) make an appearance at Boston’s Suffolk University and also show some clips from the movie. Which is great for the couple hundred people who are there, but the rest of us are still chomping at the bit for footage.  Chomp chomp chomp!

Later in April 2011: It’s been a few weeks since the last celebrity cameo announcement, which is way too long.  So we get a new one.  Good thing it’s Judd Hirsch!

May 2011: And then we get another one, and it’s John Krasinksi.  (This was the point where, when we heard about a celebrity appearing in The Muppets, I honestly could not recall whether we had already heard about it or not.  I was like, “John Krasinski… We knew he was in the movie back in October, right?  Or am I confusing him with Lady Gaga?”)

Later in May 2011: It’s not a trailer, but it is something we can stare at: We get a glimpse of the teaser poster!  I write an article scrutinizing it, and wondering whether we should be worried that the Muppets are “CLOSER THAN YOU THINK.”

May 23, 2011: We get the very clever, Muppet-wolf-in-romantic-comedy-sheep’s-clothing Green With Envy trailer. It’s pretty much the perfect way to get Facebook and Twitter buzzing about the movie.  The real movie, not the fake one.  And hey — finally, some footage!  Joe writes an article carefully analyzing every frame.

May 27, 2011: Another teaser trailer!  It’s The Fuzzy Pack, and it’s all made up to look like The Hangover 2, but with less drunkenness and more Crazy Harry.  I post an article about all the viral stuff and how encouraging it is for Disney’s faith in the movie.

June 6, 2011: You guys.  Sterling Knight is gonna be in the movie!!!!!

June 10, 2011: TIME magazine publishes an article about their visit to the set of the movie. It includes a photo where Walter looks really short.

June 16, 2011: What, another fakeout trailer?! Yep!  This time it’s Being Green, featuring Kermit reciting his Lantern Corps oath.  Joe takes on the awesome responsibility of writing hundreds of words about a one-minute teaser.

June 18, 2011: Holy crap, it’s a full-length trailer! It’s–!  And–!  A robot in the–!  Oh, and look at the–!  It’s the coolest thing any of us have ever seen in our lives up to this moment.  But did Fozzie have to say “fart shoes?”  Joe analyzes the heck out of the thing.

And then: Tough Pigs founder Danny Horn chimes in with a very insightful article called “How to Enjoy the Comeback,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s wise and funny and we should all carry it with us in our wallets.

July 11, 2011: A new teaser poster for international audiences surfaces.  It’s a parody of the Toy Story 3 poster.  Or… a ripoff of it?  We’re not really sure.

July 25, 2011: The cast and crew returns to Hollywood Boulevard for reshoots and/or pickups!  I initially report, erroneously,  that Amy Adams is there, when in fact it’s her double because she’s off being reporter Lois Lane.

July 27, 2011: There’s a new poster!  Like, the for real one!  It has a ton of Muppets about to crush Segel and Adams. It’s accompanied by a very shiny and equally Muppet-filled movie theater standee. (I haven’t seen it in person yet, have you?) Joe provides a detailed commentary.

July 28, 2011: It’s reported that composer Christophe Beck is scoring the film.  Those of us who are fans of his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are happy about this, and we prepare ourselves for the epic scene where Janice fights a demon to the death.

And that brings us to today.  What an epic!  And one hundred and one days from now we’ll be in our seats at the movie theater (with our cell phones turned off), and then, finally, after all that anticipation, we’ll get to see the movie.  I hope it doesn’t suck!

Click here to tell me which links direct to the wrong URLs on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe –

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