After a warm and Fozzie (wocka, wocka!) welcome in theaters over Thanksgiving, The Muppets are now a certifiable hit, poised to top the box office this weekend.
It’s been praised as a deft homage to our collective childhood, but there’s a whole other way to appreciate the flick: from the director’s chair.
British director James Bobin has helped create some of most brilliant and pop-culture-savvy characters in television (Da Ali G. Show and Flight of the Conchords) so it may be no surprise he managed to tuck in a mix of unexpected references that go way beyond puppet nostalgia. “For me, The Muppets were about the layers, that you could watch the show repeatedly–which I did as a kid–and find something new,” Bobin says. The filmmaker sat down with Fast Company and revealed the unexpected inspiration and careful crafstmanship behind some of his favorite scenes from The Muppets.
SCENE 1: Opening dance number with Amy Adams, Jason Segel, and their Muppet buddy Walter.
Inspiration: Oliver! The Musical (1968). “The opening number in the movie is a (much) smaller version of Consider Yourself by Lionel Bart from Oliver! That is one of my favorite pieces of cinema ever,” Bobin says.
SCENE 2: Gonzo shouting orders in his factory.
Inspiration: Brazil (1985) “It’s based on Terry Gilliam’s film, when Jonathan Pryce first goes to work at the Ministry of Information. Brazil is one of my top five favorite films,” Bobin says. “This scene is incredible, unnerving, beautifully shot, and so clever. Ian Richardson as his boss is particularly good.”
SCENE 3: Rashida Jones TV exec character yelling at Kermit and the gang.
Inspiration: Chinatown (1974). “There’s a part of this scene where she yells, ‘No going mad in this office! There are new carpets.’ That line mimics the opening line to Chinatown where Jake Geddes tells his client to ‘stop chewing up the furniture,'” Bobin says.
SCENE 4: Sweetums causing a ruckus at the car lot.
Inspiration: The Muppet Movie (1979) “It’s shot for shot similar to a scene in the 1979 version,” Bobin says. “Even the car lot we used in this film is the same exact location from the original film. It’s located in North Los Angeles–and it’s still a running used-car lot 30 years later.”
SCENE 5: Jason Segel and Muppet Walter’s “Man or Muppet” duet. (The “man” in this picture is director Bobin, who brought the idea of musical numbers to the film. Here, he’s being strung along by Muppet-star Walter.)
Inspiration: “I’m Not Crying” by Flight of the Conchords, which itself was inspired by Oran “Juice” Jones song called “The Rain” –and most other ’80s pop videos. I love rain as a signature indicator to sadness in music videos,” Bobin says.