Oscar Nominee Bret McKenzie: “We Were Really The Guardians Of This Magical (Muppet) World”

Monday, February 13 by
Bret McKenzie 

I had one important question for Flight of the Conchords star and The Muppets song writer Bret McKenzie. Who was a better Oscar nominee: Phil Collins or Three 6 Mafia?

“Phil Collins,” he answered without hesitation. “Better drum sound.”

While clearly a talented comedian, it was McKenzie’s love of all things music that made him the perfect choice for The Muppets, a fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to recognize. His Oscar nomination for Best Original Song stems not from his ability to write entertaining lyrics, but rather his ability to do so in a way that also pays tribute to the source material.

“I just really wanted to make something that felt like it belonged to that world.”

McKenzie stresses that as with Flight of the Conchords, writing for The Muppets wasn’t about simply parodying the work of Jim Henson, but rather paying homage.

“A lot of the Choncords’ music comes from a similar place. There’s a lot of respect in it, and a lot of love goes in it. And I think that really comes through in the final product.”

But in order to give a proper tribute, McKenzie had to learn the rules of the the Muppet franchise, a task that proved daunting despite his years of being a fan.

“I had to learn the rules about the Muppets‘ world,” McKenzie said, still impressed by the level of detail involved. “Sam the Eagle refused to sing one of the lines in the song because it didn’t fit his character. So I rewrote the lyric in the studio for the character.”

But having to rewrite lyrics for a felt-based prima donna didn’t seem to diminish his enthusiasm. If anything, McKenzie came away with a renewed appreciation of the characters.

“Going into it, I loved Animal. Going out of it, I just loved Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys. Because now that I’ve made a TV show, seeing how they … criticize their own show within the show, it’s just such a great idea. It means that if an idea or a sketch isn’t working, they can point it out to the audience. It’s so self aware.”

This awareness of the audience was inspiring yet intimidating to McKenzie. While he felt honored to be part of the project, he knew that expectations were ridiculously high, a fact that he and the film’s creators took very seriously.

“Sometimes it felt like I cared more about it than the studio,” he said. “They’ll do whatever, it’s more of a business model. So we were really the guardians of this magical world. And there was a lot of pressure. So there was that responsibility.”

But at the end of the day, the overwhelmingly positive reception by fans and critics alike seems to have validated McKenzie’s commitment.

“My favorite comment was people saying ‘It felt like a Muppet Movie,’ cause that was my aim, and I think we all achieved that. And that’s why I’m really proud of it.”

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