The beloved song “The Rainbow Connection” sung by Kermit the Frog didn't win the Academy Award for Best Original Song when it was nominated in the '80s. Now, Kermit has been vindicated as the ditty “Man or Muppet” from Disney's new comedy “The Muppets” has just bagged the Oscar for its songwriter Bret McKenzie.
“It’s a power ballad that deals with a man/Muppet identity crisis,” McKenzie says. “We’ve all been there. I hammered it out on the piano, imagining I was Eric Carmen.” The song required strong vocal performances from both castmembers Jason Segel and Walter. “Luckily, they did an amazing job,” says McKenzie, who also serves as music supervisor.
“I know Bret from ‘Flight of the Conchords,’ says director James Bobin. “We used to watch ‘The Muppet Show’ quite a lot when we were writing ‘The Conchords’ together. We’d watch ‘Mah Na Mah Na’ and ‘Hugga Wugga’ during breaks. In one of our ‘Conchords’ episodes, we even included a Muppets tribute. So we love the Muppets. We thought about songs from the previous movies and how that would feel now. The music is incredibly important because of the rich tradition of Muppet music.”
“Music was always an integral part of the original Muppet show and Muppet films,” adds McKenzie. “It's hard to think of the Muppets without thinking of songs like ‘Rainbow Connection’ or ‘Mah Na Mah Na,’ or Animal smashing a drum. Kermit is probably the world’s most famous banjo player. I loved the original Muppets sound and I wanted this film to stay in that world. I tried to use as much banjo as possible.”
McKenzie also penned the opening and finale song titled “Life’s a Happy Song,” performed by Jason Segel, Walter and Amy Adams. “I wrote this in New Zealand when I was in a particularly good mood,” he says. “I sat down at the piano and it came out very quickly. It’s a simple little song and James Bobin really liked it. He then asked me to make it into a gigantic musical number involving an entire town singing and dancing.”
Amy Adams and Miss Piggy teamed up for a duet created by McKenzie called “Me Party.” “It needed to be sad but also up-tempo, so I came up with a party track for the lonely. I wrote this song sitting in a cafe, drinking iced teas and getting weird looks from the waitress when I did Miss Piggy impressions. Amy Adams did a great job of channeling her inner disco diva. Miss Piggy was predictably difficult to work with; I think she was dealing with some personal issues.” Also featured in the film is the original song “Pictures In My Head,” performed by Kermit the Frog, Fozzie, Gonzo, Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, and written by Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis and Chen Neeman. Andrew Bird is the writer/artist behind the song “The Whistling Caruso,” a song performed by newcomer Walter in the movie.
While the new songs are sure to please, no Muppet movie would be complete without some signature songs. Disney’s “The Muppets” features “Rainbow Connection,” written by Paul Williams and Kenny Asher, performed by Kermit the Frog and The Muppets, and, of course, “Mah Na Mah Na,” featuring Mahna Mahna and The Snowths. And, of course, a Muppet movie wouldn’t be complete without covering classic rock songs and contemporary favorites. The Muppet Barbershop Quartet has taken on Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” while Camilla and the Chickens cluck their way through Cee Lo Green’s hit “Forget You.”
“The Muppets don’t sound like anyone else,” says McKenzie, “and that’s what’s great about them. It was a huge honor to work on the [film] and I took the job very seriously, even when I was recording a man pretending to be a penguin.”
Opening across the Philippines in March, “The Muppets” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.