In a press release issued by Disney, The Muppets Movie has been moved from its original Christmas 2011 release date to November 23, 2011. The movie is currently under production and is being directed by James Bobin from a script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.
According to the press release, the film will continue the Muppet tradition of having big-name stars appear in cameos. Among the stars confirmed for the movie are Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Alan Arkin, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Billy Crystal, and Wanda Sykes. Personally, I love the Van Damme cameo idea. I just hope they include some old-school celeb cameos like the original Muppet Movie did. The Edgar Bergen cameo was priceless.
While I personally would love to see a really good Muppet film, Disney has seriously botched previous attempts to jump-start the franchise. That includes the terrible TV movies and the Muppet Show reboot that was terribly unfunny. rather than give the Muppets the right direction, Disney (and ABC) seemed more intent on putting out product that would move merchandise and make money, in the vein of the direct-to-DVD animated sequels.
Part of the problem is a lack of vision from writers and directors that has led to poor attempts at the Muppets trying to be hip and relevant and still be appealing to children. The Muppet TV movies for ABC had their moments but were largely misguided and not very interesting. One particularly low point in the Muppet Show reboot involved Miss Piggy reenacting the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally. Yes, THAT scene. In an attempt to be controversial and funny, the whole thing came off as creepy and uncomfortable.
Jim Henson always considered the Kermit branch of the Muppets to be geared to older audiences, as opposed to the Sesame Street branch. When Henson, Frank Oz, and the other original Muppet performers brought the original 1980s films to life, they managed to appeal to children and adults without looking desperate for attention. The new incarnations of the Muppets haven’t been able to find that balance. With the right person in charge, the Muppets could find that balance. It almost makes you wish someone from Pixar would take over the franchise.
While I hope the new incarnation will work, I wonder if picking Segel and Bobin was the right idea. Segel made his mark working with Judd Apatow in their string of R-rated comedies. Bobin made his mark as creator of Flight of the Conchords. While I like their work individually, I wonder if they have the right sensibilities to make the Muppets appealing to everyone. I hope I’m wrong. After all, Bob Clark (the director of Porky’s) seemed like an odd choice to direct A Christmas Story, but he made it a classic by finding the right tone. Whether Segel and Bobin can bring new life to the Muppets remains to be seen.