It's 10 p.m. on Hollywood Boulevard, but from the fluorescent lights illuminating the famed, closed-off street and the droves of people straining for a glimpse of the action, you'd think there was a premiere about to begin (which wouldn't be uncommon since nearly all of Disney's films open nearby at the historic El Capitan Theatre). A few casually placed signs with "M2" written on them provide clues that we're on a live set, where the beginning of Disney's Muppets Most Wanted is in production.
The filmmakers are shooting the very first scene of the film in which they have re-created the ending from its predecessor, The Muppets -- if you recall, that movie ended with the Muppets on Hollywood Boulevard basically saying, "Well, what now?" – and they're all back in place, wearing all the same clothes. And producer Todd Lieberman is on hand to give our small press group a first look at Disney's action-musical-comedy coming to theaters on March 21, 2014.
Now that the Muppets are back together and they've reacquired the Muppet Theater, it's time to show the world who they are. Playing in sold-out theaters throughout Europe, the team seems unstoppable. "They're a family again, so it felt natural for the next stage of the story to be what happens next," Lieberman told us.
The 1960s-style caper required a global setting. Europe was ideal since some of the world's greatest treasures are in London, Madrid, Berlin and Dublin. While performing abroad, the Muppets become entangled in a series of heists organized by the world's number-one criminal Constantine (who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to Kermit the Frog) and his sidekick Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). When Kermit is mistaken for Constantine, he finds himself locked inside a Russian prison while the show goes on without him -- unbeknownst to the Muppets.
Much like the original film produced by Disney, Muppets Most Wanted will "honor what those early [Muppet] movies felt like," Lieberman said. "It's a great blend of fun, mayhem, craziness." He added that it harks back to films like The Great Muppet Caper but with a fresh, modern story and different characters and actors, including Tina Fey as a Russian prison guard and Ty Burrell as a French Interpol agent.
A Devious Doppelgänger
The introduction of Muppet newcomer Walter met with great success, so it made sense to introduce yet another new Muppet in the sequel. Lean, green and mean, Kermit's devious lookalike Constantine is a force to be reckoned with… the froggy face behind the great jewelry heist. But don't be fooled. If his unique mannerisms and voice don't blow his cover, just look for his identifying gray mole.
As iconic as the Muppets are, so are the celebrity cameo appearances that have become a longstanding tradition. But who decides which celebrities will appear alongside the Muppets? According to Lieberman, the surprise element was an important determining factor. "The great part of the cameos," he says, "is when you have no idea what’s coming, and all of a sudden there’s this famous face who might seamlessly blend into the scene or might be completely opposite of what you think the scene’s [going to] be."
To date, we know that we can expect appearances from Danny Trejo, Tom Hiddleston, Celine Dion, Salma Hayek, P. Diddy, Christoph Waltz and Ross Lync. Lieberman adds, "It's going to be a very eclectic, interesting mix of people who would never otherwise be in a film together."