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Frank Oz Reveals Why He Turned Down ‘The Muppets’
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The Muppets

When The Muppets hits theaters the day before Thanksgiving the movie will be missing one of the original “Muppeteers”: Frank Oz.

Before becoming a director with films as diverse as the 1986 musical remake of Little Shop of Horrors and the DeNiro/Brando/Norton crime drama The Score to his credit, Oz provided the voices and movements for several of the most iconic Muppet characters including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal as well as Grover and Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. He also did the voice and puppeteering for Yoda in the original Star Wars trilogy (for the prequels Oz only did the voice, as Yoda was now a CGI character).

Oz, whose parents were both puppeteers (and also Holocaust survivors who fought the Nazis with the Dutch Brigades), continues to work in the field occasionally to this day but is mostly retired.

But according to a recent interview with the British website Metro, the 67-year-old Oz revealed that he was invited to be part of the new Muppets movie being directed by James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords) and starring Jason Segel (who also co-wrote) and Amy Adams, but that he rejected the offer.

“I wasn’t happy with the script”, Oz explained. “I don’t think they respected the characters. But I don’t want to go on about it like a sourpuss and hurt the movie.”

Back in 2006 Oz was approached by Dick Cook, then the chairman of the Walt Disney Company, to possibly write and direct a new Muppets movie. While Oz was developing the script along with the studio’s special effects department Disney executives were buying another pitch for a Muppets movie from Segel, whose career was then just starting to kick into gear thanks to his involvement in the hit movies Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (the latter directed by Nicholas Stoller, Segel’s writing partner on The Muppets). The decision to go with Segel and Stoller’s script over Oz’s rankled the Muppet faithful, leading one veteran to wonder if “this is a case of Disney wanting to get into the Jason Segel business” instead of making a movie true to the characters and Henson’s vision.

Oz isn’t the only former Muppets cast member expressing his doubts about The Muppets; THR posted an article recently in which several unnamed veterans of the Muppets troupe, including a few who worked on the movie, voiced their disapproval of the direction the beloved characters seem to be going in under the guidance of Segel and Bobin. The decision to have The Muppets open with Henson’s creations having gone through a bitter breakup and the presence of some lowbrow gags, including Fozzie’s “fart shoes” (shown in the trailers), are just two bones of contention with the old school players. “They’re looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story,” said one unnamed source. Those same Muppet performers at one point considered removing their names from the credits but ultimately decided against it because their efforts would have had little-to-no effect on the corporate mindset at Disney. One performer was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t send any message. Disney wouldn’t care.”

Bonnie Erickson, executive director of the Jim Henson Legacy (the organization dedicated to keeping the late Henson’s work in the public eye) as well as the designer of the original Miss Piggy, is ambivalent about how the new movie will be received by the public but she remains optimistic as well: “I’m hoping the standard of excellence that Jim set is maintained.”

The Muppets opens on November 23, 2011.

12 Comments »

  1. Unfortunately, I think they’re right about Disney not caring.  It’s like with their decision to add Avatar to the Animal Kingdom park–they’re just thinking about profits rather than Walt’s legacy of building an experience that makes sense.  

    Seriously, if FRANK OZ walks from a project because he feels it’s subpar, then everybody should have stopped what they were doing and rewrote the script immediately.  Not doing so, and thus not having Frank on board with the project, is going to cost this project a whole lot of respect.  And money, since I know I’m not going to see it, and a lot of other back-in-the-day fans won’t either.

    Smiles!
    Lori

    Comment by Lori Strongin — October 23, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  2. While the story includes some tidbits of information, it’s naive to think anyone knows all the circumstances behind these creative and political decision to not be involved. Animal Kingdom and the Muppets will go on with a new generation of fans and the properties will evolve with or without the involvement of some key player but can stay still true to the spirit of the creators in that it’s entertainment for families. 

    Comment by Mario P — October 23, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

  3. Lori, that stuff about the performers wanting to take their names off is bull. Want proof?

    Check out this blog post from a fan who got to meet some of the perfromers from the movie. They are looking forward to the film;
    http://themuppetmindset.blogspot.com/2011/08/muppets-and-me-at-d23-part-2.html

    Also, Frank Oz is not a God. For your information, in a 2000 interview, he said that he cracked up and Jar jar Binks and he thought the character would be a hit.

    Also, for years Fozzie bear has had a fondness for whoopie cushions.

    To add to that, Frank Oz apparently had no problem with the crass line that Miss Piggy said (spoken by him) in Muppets From Space; “I gotta pee!”

    Yes, Frank Oz deserves credit for creating great characters such as Yoda, but he stopped performing with the MUppets years ago because he never wanted to be a puppeteer in the first place and he was tired of it. Directing is his truth passion, and in interviews, he comes across as pretentious, self-centered, and a control freak.

    So Just because Frank Oz has an opinion, doesn’t mean he is right.

    You obviously don’t know the real plot and tone of this movie.

    Please reply.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 23, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  4. Oh? What about Star Wars and Indiana Jones? Those outside properties are in Disney parks and most people are fine with it.

    Again, please reply.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 23, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  5. And yet he was fine with voicing Yoda in the prequels? I think it’s a bit wrong of these folks, most of which wish to remain nameless, to undermine the success of the upcoming movie before it’s even hit theaters.

    It seems to me that the old guard Muppeteers are bitter that Henson’s heirs sold off the Muppets to Disney. The worst I’ve heard of the movie is that some of the jokes are un-Muppet-like. Oh dear, fart shoes. I never. *southern belle faint*

    Comment by serke — October 23, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  6. I agree.

    Its sad how this story has been completely blown out of proportion.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 24, 2011 @ 12:17 am

  7. […] (via Geeks of Doom) […]

    Pingback by Frank Oz Confirms What We All Suspected: “The Muppets” is Going to Suck | Verbicide Magazine — October 24, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  8. To add to the “Frank Oz is not god” argument, I add further evidence:  Stepford Wives.  Speaking of not at all staying true to the original and completely subverting the source material.  

    Comment by Anonymous — November 25, 2011 @ 11:36 pm

  9. I have just watched the movie (several times), n while I agree it was missing somthing without frank, it still reminded me how important they were in teaching mygeneration. The dart shoes were a great reminder of the horn shoes. The movie was a great tribute to the muppets and I can not wait to share it with my family.

    Comment by Darkchic27 — March 28, 2012 @ 8:09 am

  10. so find new characters, just because disney bought what they think is a treasure trove doesnt mean the whole damn artform is limited to the muppets or mickey mouse and their gang of thugs using the hearts of children who turn into spoiled adults as their bankrole, if thats what all this has been about this industry is no better than british petroleum, search for others who have similiar ideas as the original but for heavens sake dont continue the mimic these individuals its insulting to all concerened and boring, just like eating a hamburger and coke every day your entire life boring and unhealthy

    Comment by Donnie Mrkacek — August 19, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  11. Well, back in the day, it wasn’t much of a secret that Oz and Henson had a rocky relationship and constantly disagreed over artistic differences. While I was sceptical of the movie, I’ve always been of the opinion that any work of art (or attempt at art) cannot be judged without witnessing it first hand.
    I must say that while they pulled on some modern drama practices, the film as a whole did uphold the ideals of Henson. Cameos (a practically dead concept now, unless one counts guest appearances on TV shows) were abundant with modern stars, the simple yet clever jokes are structured very similar to ones used in Henson’s originals (particularly the occassional acknowledgement of the film being a film), and the only scene that was truely dramatic and not mock-dramatic was obviously in tribute to Henson.
    While I do not agree with Oz’s choice to decline the role while he agreed to Muppets From Space (in my own opinion: the worst, but still worth watching, Muppet film, and was also made after Henson’s death), he also abstained from expressing any opinion that would have discredited the film itself. Those that did offer discrediting opinions I believe did not fully grasp the concept of the film and were more just attempting a negative whispering campaign due to personal politics.

    For any naysayers on the subject, I would suggest watching the film yourself without prejudice. If you still have anything negative to say of it, only then would your complaints be valid.

    Comment by That Guy — August 25, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  12. Just a minor correction, Dick Cook was not the Chairman of The Walt Disney Company he was Chairman of the movie division Walt Disney Studios, Inc. under then Disney Company Chairman Michael Eisner but stepped down in 2009 at the request of and under new incoming TWDC Chairman Bob Iger.

    Comment by Rick Schwarz — November 25, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

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