published Friday, November 18th, 2011

The Muppets are back

Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog show the world that the Muppets still know how to sing and dance and making people happy.
Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog show the world that the Muppets still know how to sing and dance and making people happy.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It's time to play the music.

It's time to light the lights.

It's time to get things started on "The Muppet Show" tonight.

Muppet lovers, rejoice; your puppet friends are back on-screen.

"It's so fun to introduce people to that fantasy world and to Henson," said Colleen Laliberte, a Chattanooga puppeteer and storyteller who calls Muppet creator Jim Henson one of her heroes.

"The Muppets," which will be released nationwide Wednesday, is the work of actor and writer Jason Segel (TV's "How I Met Your Mother"), co-writer Nicholas Stoller and a team of Muppet-adoring talent.

In the production notes, which include liberal input from Kermit the Frog, Stoller described The Muppets as being a comedy gateway. "It's like the first thing you try, and then you slowly fall down the rabbit hole of comedy," he said.

"They lead into, like, harder comedy, Monty Python and 'Saturday Night Live,' " Segel said in a news conference.

The movie features Segel and Amy Adams as Gary and Mary, a couple from Smalltown, USA, who travel to Los Angeles and encounter The Muppets. Along with them is Gary's brother, Walter, a new puppet, played by puppeteer Peter Linz.

Anna Kate Gibbs, 25, said she is looking forward to the new movie, and she calls "Muppet Treasure Island" her favorite Muppet movie thus far.

"We saw it in the theater when I was a kid, and then we bought it on VHS," she said. "I remember laughing so hard about the whole Gonzo joke, 'I'm a whatever,' " she said.

She said she had a affinity toward Gonzo, who was "blue and weird and did lots of funny things. I feel like he was always kind of doing things backward," she said. "He was, at least to me, not really sure where to put him. He was pretty funny, wore some strange stuff, that kind of thing."

Director James Bobin said in the production notes that "we see a bit of ourselves in The Muppets."

Laliberte agrees.

"We can identify with those personalities and the characters we see," she said. "It doesn't matter that they have blue fur or are a diva pig; we can identify with these characters and enjoy them. They each have such distinct personalities."

She calls Kermit her "all-time favorite pal."

"He's sort of an accidental driver," she said. "He's not setting out to be the leader."

The seed for "The Muppets" was planted during the production of 2008 movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," a Sege/Stoller collaboration that included a puppet show with puppets by the Jim Henson Co.

In the notes, Segel said that something started "growing in [his] belly" from there.

Gibbs appreciated the Muppet-esque presence in the R-rated film. "That was pretty exciting," she said. "That's one of my favorite funny movies of all time. All the actors are hilarious, and then there's a 10-minute Muppet show."

The Muppets have a timelessness about them.

"These characters are as contemporary today as they were when Henson first brought them to life," executive producer David Hoberman is quoted as saying. "I think people of all ages will respond to them on the big screen."

Henson's characters let the inner child "come out and play," said Laliberte.

"They take us back to that childhood of where it's perfectly acceptable to laugh at silly jokes and not to be preoccupied with the serious parts of the world. We have this idea that when we reach a certain age or certain success level, what point is it where we say 'OK, those things are for children and we should not do those anymore?'"

The fact that The Muppets are puppets, she said, and perhaps perceived as more innocent, allows more liberties to be taken.

"They can get away with a lot more mischievous behavior and silliness than we can as humans."

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/leber.holly.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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