Part 3 – The Grand Traditions: Cameos and Music of the Muppets

One of the most frequently-asked questions about the new Muppet movie doesn’t revolve around the plot or its stars. Instead, most folks are wondering about another grand Muppet tradition… the cameo appearance. The vintage television show always attracted top stars of the day to guest host and the first series of Muppet movies was a veritable who’s who of Hollywood “drop-ins.” The original Muppet Movie was chock-full of cameo appearances from the likes of Dom DeLuise, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Edgar Bergen, Madeline Kahn, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman and Orson Wells. During our visit to the set back in January, the Muppets crew was keeping fairly tightlipped on cameo information releasing only a few names as confirmed, including Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and veteran actors Mickey Rooney and Alan Arkin.

“I’m not allowed to talk about a lot of them, but we’ve got some great cameos,” said Segel. “We’ve got some really great ones in there.”

Since that time more names have come out including Zach Galifianaki, Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais, Emily Blunt, Jack Black among others.

One phenomenon the cast experienced while making the movie was the increased level of famous friends that called in vying for a spot in the film.

“I got a lot of calls… especially from my contemporaries that have kids,” confessed Segel. “They all wanted to be a part of it for their kids. The idea of bringing their kids to meet the Muppets or even being able to show them the movie eventually. So yeah… people love the Muppets. There is a lot of Muppet love out there.”

Amy Adams was not only fielding similar phone calls, she was encouraging friends to come be a part of the project.

“I have a friend that is doing a cameo,” she confirmed without naming names. “I know a lot of people… I mean every time I tell people I’m doing it they are like ‘Oh, I love the Muppets!’ and I’m like ‘You should be IN The Muppets.’ Then they look at you strangely like ‘Uh, really?’ I’m trying to talk everyone while we’re out doing the awards. We can find somewhere for you!”

Producer Todd Lieberman was also struck by the sheer number of top line actors looking for a spot in the film, but he was careful not to force cameos solely for the sake of getting someone in the movie. The appearance had to fit the direction they wanted to take the film.

“The nostalgia for the Muppets we saw first hand when we announced that we were shooting and the amount of calls we got from people… and the amazing range of the kinds of people they were that wanted to participate,” he said. “It was pretty astounding. We had a wealth of interest and we really had to tailor it to certain scenes. It’s been wild… the amount of interest.”

Interest was also high regarding music in the new movie. Using The Muppet Movie and the stellar work of Paul Williams as a springboard, the filmmakers spent a lot of time and effort in getting the songs they wanted for the film.

“I’m a big Paul Williams fan,” confessed director James Bobin. “When I was working with the (Flight of the) Conchords we spent a lot of time watching musicals. It’s an interesting reference. Immediately when I got the job I started talking to different guys, see who was around who could write songs. Bret (McKenzie) was around, but we have other people too. The music is a big deal. Effectively, this is a musical comedy. It really is. We tried to keep as much music in it as we can, and not only for the Muppets. Jason sings a song. Our bad guy sings a song. It was a very natural development. It felt like it all came from the same place comedically and musically.”

Segel said he went into the project knowing it would be a musical from the start and that McKenzie was the perfect choice to be the lead writer for the songs in the new film.

“All the great Muppet movies are musicals,” he said. “When you look back at the great lineage of Muppet music… things like Rainbow Connection. I mean, that is not a joke of a song. If a legitimate musician put that song out it would win the Grammy. So we really wanted the music to be great.”

Segel did let slip that in addition to the new songs, there are ‘a couple’ of reprises from some classic Muppets songs in the film, but caught himself before revealing specifics. However, he did go into detail on some of the new music.

“I wrote one of the songs, but it is a jokier song,” he said. “Bret really just took the songs and ran with them. They’re awesome. Really, really gorgeous. Yeah, they’re catchy so the kids will be bopping along, but some of the lyrics are definitely adult-based. Part of the movie is Kermit trying to come to terms with the fact that the Muppets aren’t together anymore and there is a beautiful song that Kermit sings that is truly heart-breaking.”

The Muppets opens in theaters on November 23.

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