You can’t blame director James Bobin for being slightly giddy these days. The Muppets is one of the best reviewed movies of the year (“We have a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes,” he says proudly), will likely be an Oscar contender in multiple categories and even managed to upset Fox Business Network in the process.
The Hollywood Reporter: How do you explain the enduring popularity of The Muppets?
James Bobin: I think it’s because they are all fundamentally flawed. Fozzy can’t tell jokes, Miss Piggy can’t really act or sing, but they all try their best and I think that’s a very authentic idea. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at anything, just try your best. Then there’s the idea that individually they’re flawed but together they can do amazing things. I think that’s a very nice message and it’s not something you hit people over the head with. It just comes with The Muppets; it’s what they’re about. It’s that kind of innocent try, try, try quality. And it also makes them underdogs. You can’t help but support the underdog.
THR: Did you feel a lot of pressure following in the footsteps of Jim Henson?
Bobin: The pressure for me was pretty much from my six year old self. I knew the show inside and out. I watched it every week. When I started thinking about this film it was incredible to me how much came back without too much effort. I wasn’t YouTubing everything or Googling the Muppets. I could just remember bits I loved from The Muppet Show. I felt like I knew them. That helped with the pressure because if you know what you’re doing you have that confidence to take it forward. It’s a combination of that and the fact that I had been doing Flight of the Concords on HBO for a good five years so I was confident in my abilities with musical comedy. I was always very keen on this movie being a musical. It has something like 88 out of 90 minutes that are musical.
When I see people watch this movie they smile for 90 minutes. And I know it’s because of the Muppets but it’s also because of music and song. It’s joyous. It’s a very rare thing these days for an entertainment to make us smile for an hour and half. That’s the way it should be. At the same time the Muppets are a national treasure. And an international treasure. In England if you asked someone where the Muppets were from you’d hear England. The Muppets was recorded in London from 1976 to 1981. Jim Henson and Frank Oz and all those guys lived in London during that time. I think as a performer you can’t help but be informed by your environment. I’m sure if you watch The Muppet Show now it feels more like the English TV shows of the 70s like Monty Python. It’s a very interesting tone and maybe because I’m English I couldn’t help but bring some of that back.
THR: The Muppet Show never pandered to kids. Were you conscious of that while making the movie?
Bobin: Jim never wrote down to kids. It was for everybody. It was almost more for adults but the kids came with it because they were puppets. One of the principle aims of this movie was to make a film that appeals to people on different levels. I can sit down with my four year old daughter and watch the same movie and we take away different things from it. That’s a difficult thing to do and I’m very pleased with this movie because I think we’ve done that.
THR: How difficult was it to work with Miss Piggy?
Bobin: I couldn’t possibly say. She was a doll … obviously [laughs]. An ultra professional performer. She was on time and knew her lines. That’s all I’m going to say.
THR: You can refuse to answer this question if you like, but it has to be asked: Are the Muppets communists?
Bobin: [Laughs] It’s a very strange turn of events to hear a question like that. Cable news is 24 hours long so you have to fill it up with something. No, the Muppets are not communist. And the character of Tex Richman is not an allegory for capitalism in any way. The character is called Tex Richman. It’s a joke. Clearly he is a classic, old school bad guy. He’s bad not because he works for an oil company but because he’s evil. No, it’s not a communist movie in any way.