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Alison De Souza
Friday, Apr 25, 2014

Showbiz

Maintaining the Muppets' mystique

The Straits Times | Alison De Souza | Friday, Apr 25, 2014

Muppets Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy arrive for the premiere of Disney's "Muppets Most Wanted" at the El Capitan Theatre on March 11, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

SINGAPORE -If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Muppets ruled children's television and had a string of hit movies, there is a good chance that Jim Henson's singing, dancing and value-imparting puppets are embedded in your consciousness.

Hence, the pure joy with which hundreds of reporters interviewed them on the press tour for their latest film. This reporter found herself waving at Kermit to make sure he could see her as she asked her question, before catching herself and wondering if the puppeteer beneath him - Steve Whitmire, who took over after Henson died in 1990 - could even see her.

It helps that everyone involved in the show goes to great lengths not to shatter the illusion.

After director James Bobin and composer Bret McKenzie leave the podium, a giant screen is put up so that reporters do not see the puppeteers setting up. And as the "muppet wranglers" transport the puppets and their costumes to and from the stage, the muppets are carefully covered in special cloths so that no one can see them.

Bobin directed the previous film, 2011's The Muppets - a commercial and critical success that also won the Best Original Song Oscar for McKenzie, the New Zealand comedian best known for the TV musical comedy Flight Of The Conchords).

So beloved are the Muppets that the pair say they had a long queue of celebrities clamouring for a role on the new movie, which boasts an impressive list of cameos (Lady Gaga, Sean Puffy Combs, Usher, Celine Dion, Zach Galifianakis, Salma Hayek, among many others).

Producer Todd Lieberman says the film-makers "gather 'intel' about people we like,and people who like us", with McKenzie joking that this intelligence-gathering often means "just Googling 'celebrity' and 'Muppets'".

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