Walt Disney Pictures announced the film's development in March 2008, with Segel and Stoller writing the screenplay, and Mandeville Films co-producing the film. Bobin was hired to direct in January 2010, and the film's supporting cast was filled out in October of the same year, with the casting of Adams, Cooper, and Jones. Filming began in September 2010 and was completed entirely in Los Angeles.
The film was the first theatrical Muppet production without the involvement of veteran Muppet performers Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson, although Nelson provides an uncredited vocal cameo. Instead, their characters are performed by Jacobson and Vogel, respectively, marking their theatrical feature film debut as those characters.
Brothers Walter and Gary, residents of Smalltown, are fans of the Muppets, having watched The Muppet Show throughout their youth. Now adults, Gary plans a vacation to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Mary, to celebrate their tenth anniversary, inviting Walter so he can tour the Muppet Studios. Mary feels Gary's devotion to Walter is detracting from their relationship.
In Los Angeles, the three visit the abandoned Muppet Studios. During the tour, Walter sneaks into Kermit the Frog's office and discovers Statler and Waldorf selling the Muppet Theater to oil magnate Tex Richman and his henchmen Bobo the Bear and Uncle Deadly. After Statler and Waldorf leave, Walter overhears Richman reveal his plan to destroy the theater and drill for oil underneath. Walter explains to Gary and Mary that if the Muppets can raise $10 million by the time their original contract expires, they can repurchase the theater.
Agreeing to stop Richman, they find Kermit and inform him he must organize a telethon to raise the money, which appears difficult since the Muppets have gone their separate ways since the show ended its run. Convinced to try, Kermit sets off with the three to reunite the group. Kermit attempts to dissuade Fozzie Bear from continuing to perform in Reno, Nevada with the Moopets, a tribute group of uncouth Muppet impersonators. Meanwhile, Gonzo has become a plumbing magnate and, despite his initial objection, destroys his business and joins them. Animal is recovered from a celebrity anger-management clinic, before being instructed by his sponsor Jack Black to keep away from drums. The other primary Muppets rejoin through a montage. Later in Paris, the group finds Miss Piggy working as an editor for "plus-sized" fashion at Vogue Paris. Having failed to convince Piggy to return, the group replaces her with Moopet counterpart Miss Poogy.
The Muppets return to Los Angeles and pitch their telethon idea to several television networks, but are rejected. Following a show's cancellation, CDE executive Veronica gives the Muppets a recently vacated two-hour slot in the network's schedule, on the condition that they find a celebrity guest. The Muppets refurbish the theater, but their first rehearsal is unsuccessful and Kermit is unable to contact a celebrity guest. Piggy returns, forces Poogy out, and informs Kermit that she refuses to work with him. Kermit inspires Walter to find his talent and perform in the telethon. Meanwhile, Mary goes sightseeing alone.
Kermit entreats Richman to return their studio. Richman declines and reveals that the Muppets will also lose their trademark names, which he plans to entitle to the Moopets. Unsuccessfully, Kermit returns home and Piggy enlists the remaining Muppets to kidnap Black as a celebrity guest. Meanwhile, after discovering that a devastated Mary has returned to Smalltown, Gary realizes that he must improve his relationship with Mary and follows her back home to reconcile, while Walter discovers he was intended to join the Muppets. After the Muppets rebuild the theater while dancing to "We Built This City", the telethon begins and gradually attracts a large audience, with the Muppets raising donations with support from celebrity callers and Jack Black serving unwillingly as host. During the show, Richman cuts the theater's power supply, but Gary and Mary return to Los Angeles and restore the power. Richman then attempts to destroy the theater's television transmitter, but a regretful Uncle Deadly stops Richman. Kermit and Piggy finally reconcile and the Muppets perform "Rainbow Connection" as their final act.
However, the telethon runs short as the $10 million has yet to be collected. Having found his talent, Walter performs a whistling act, which is unanimously praised by the audience. Refusing to lose, Richman disables the telephone lines and evicts the Muppets from the theater, after the latter fall short of their monetary goal. Kermit gathers the group in the lobby and delivers a speech, suggesting that they will restart their career together as a family. Exiting the theater, the Muppets are greeted by a vast gathering of supporters on Hollywood Boulevard. With Gary's encouragement, Walter greets the crowd and is accepted by the Muppets as their newest member. Gary proposes to Mary, Richman returns the theater and naming rights to the Muppets after suffering a head injury, and Kermit and Piggy enjoy their private life.Jason Segel as Gary, Walter's human brother and a fan of the Muppets.
Amy Adams as Mary, an elementary school teacher and Gary's longtime girlfriend. She is also a very capable mechanic.
Chris Cooper as Tex Richman, a greedy oil magnate who desires to destroy the Muppet Theater to get to the oil that is supposedly underneath it. He has issues with the Muppets when he was unable to laugh at his tenth birthday.
Rashida Jones as Veronica, a network executive at the CDE network.
Jack Black as Himself, Animal's court-appointed sponsor and unwilling celebrity host of The Muppet Telethon.
Zach Galifianakis as Hobo Joe, a homeless man who is the first audience member of The Muppet Telethon. Joanna Newsom did his brief singing voice.
Jim Parsons as Human Walter
Ken Jeong as Punch Teacher host
Alan Arkin as Muppet Studios Tour Guide
Bill Cobbs as Grandfather
Eddie Pepitone as Postman
Kristen Schaal as the Anger Management Group moderator.
Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo as Univision Executive
Donald Glover as a Junior CDE Executive
Sarah Silverman as a Mel's Drive-In restaurant greeter.
Dahlia Wangort as FOX Executive
Michael Albala as NBC Executive
Aria Noelle Curzon as Marge, a Mel's Drive-In waitress
Steve Whitmire as Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Statler, Rizzo the Rat, Link Hogthrob, Lips, The Muppet Newsman
Eric Jacobson as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle, Marvin Suggs
Dave Goelz as Gonzo the Great, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot, Beauregard, Waldorf, Kermit Moopet
Bill Barretta as Rowlf the Dog, Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth, Pepé the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear, Mahna Mahna, Behemoth, Fozzie Moopet, Muppet Gary
David Rudman as Scooter, Janice, Wayne, Miss Poogy
Matt Vogel as Floyd Pepper, Camilla the Chicken, Sweetums, '80s Robot, Lew Zealand, Uncle Deadly, Crazy Harry, Rowlf Moopet
Peter Linz as Walter
Archival recordings of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt can be heard in the film through The Muppet Show segments in the opening flashbacks. In his final Muppets performance, Nelson reprised his role from The Muppet Show as the announcer of the telethon.Emily Blunt as Miss Piggy's French receptionist at Vogue Paris. Blunt was spoofing her prior role as Emily Charlton from The Devil Wears Prada.
James Carville as Himself
Leslie Feist as Smalltown Resident
Whoopi Goldberg as Herself
Selena Gomez as Herself
Dave Grohl as Animool, a man dressed as Animal who is a member of the Moopets.
Neil Patrick Harris as Himself
Judd Hirsch as Himself
John Krasinski as Himself
Rico Rodriguez as Himself
Mickey Rooney as Elderly Smalltown Resident
David Bobin as Himself
Rob Corddry, Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Hyland, Sterling Knight, Wanda Sykes, and Danny Trejo were featured in scenes that were removed from the final cut of the film. Corddry, Gervais, and Trejo would later appear in Muppets Most Wanted in different roles.
In 2008, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller pitched a concept for a Muppets film to Walt Disney Studios executive vice-president of production Karen Falk, and they were offered a deal to develop their script, with David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman of Mandeville Films producing. The news became public in March 2008 when Variety first reported that Disney had signed a deal with Segel and Stoller, with Segel and Stoller writing the script and Stoller directing. In June 2008, Segel announced that he had turned in the first draft of his script and was hopeful that the film would live up to previous Muppets movies. Later in 2008, Stoller noted that he and Segel had written an "old school Muppets movie, where the Muppets have to put on a show to save the studio." In this same interview, Stoller also confirmed that they would get as many cameos and guest stars as possible, and that Segel would play a ventriloquist.
Originally, the film was titled The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time!!!, and an early leak of the script suggested that it would feature celebrity cameos by Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Christian Bale, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, George Clooney, Jack Black, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Brooks, Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Rachael Ray, Bob Saget, Lisa Lampanelli, Jeff Ross, and Charles Grodin. Another former title of the film was The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made!, after an unused script written by Jerry Juhl back in 1985. Although early reports indicated that Stoller would direct the film, in January 2010 it was announced that James Bobin would direct the movie. In February 2010, additional details about the plot surfaced, indicating that the film would be about a villain that wanted to drill for oil underneath the old Muppet Theater, and that the only way to stop him would be to put on a show that draws ten million viewers. Reports from the summer of 2010 revealed that the production team had met with the creative heads at Pixar Animation Studios to fine tune the script. During the summer of 2010, it was announced that the film would be released on Christmas 2011, but in December 2010, the release date was moved to Thanksgiving 2011.
In October 2010, it was confirmed that Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Rashida Jones would also be starring in the film. Over the next few months, several guest cameo announcements emerged, including, but not limited to Emily Blunt, Ricky Gervais, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Crystal, Jack Black, Alan Arkin and Dave Grohl. However, Gervais, Crystal and several other cameos including Beth Broderick, Kathy Griffin, Ed Helms, Sterling Knight, Mila Kunis, Ben Stiller, Eric Stonestreet, Wanda Sykes Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Danny Trejo were completely omitted from the film due to time constraints. Jim Parsons' cameo was kept as a secret by producers despite rumors that leaked on the Internet regarding his role in the film. In a March 2009 interview on The Late Late Show, Segel revealed that he had asked host Craig Ferguson to appear in the film, and at the time, he (Ferguson) had been the only person that had agreed. Ferguson was ultimately not given a role, for which he chastised Segel in a November 2011 interview. A cameo was written for the Sesame Street Muppet Elmo, but was rejected by Disney's attorneys and representatives from Sesame Workshop.
During the summer of 2010, Flight of the Conchords co-star Bret McKenzie flew to Los Angeles to serve as the music supervisor for The Muppets.
Principal photography for The Muppets started in late 2010, with the first set photos emerging in December 2010. The November 12, 2010, issue of Entertainment Weekly featured a spread about The Muppets, including a summary of the film's concept, quotes from Segel and Bobin, the first images of Walter, and new photos of the Muppets with Jason Segel.
Hollywood Boulevard was closed for two nights in January 2011 to film a reprise of "Life's a Happy Song", the final musical number for the movie. According to /Film, the shoot involved Amy Adams, Jason Segel, and hundreds of extras performing an elaborate musical number outside the El Capitan Theatre. The Los Angeles Times also noted that other musical numbers would appear in the film, including Kermit singing his signature song, "Rainbow Connection", which he played on the same banjo that he used when he performed the song in The Muppet Movie.
Universal Studios' Soundstage 28, most famous for containing the Paris Opera House set from The Phantom of the Opera, served as interiors for The Muppet Theater. Scenes set in Smalltown were filmed at the Warner Bros. Studios' backlot and Disney's Golden Oak Ranch, whereas the fictional "Muppet Studios" were filmed at various locations including the El Capitan Theatre (with a digitally changed marquee), the Jim Henson Company Lot and the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.
Other filming locations included Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Pink Palace Mansion in Bel Air, the Crossroads of the World, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the City National Plaza in downtown Los Angeles (acting as the interior of Richman Oil's headquarters, although the Bank of America Center is represented instead). Scooter's scene in the Muppet reunion montage was filmed at Google's Zurich headquarters in Switzerland. Although principal photography was completed on February 11, 2011, on April 26, 2011, a second unit film crew traveled to Reno, Nevada to film some exterior shots, including a scene in the Bonanza Casino parking lot with some Muppet characters, and a small shot looking into the casino.
The film required extensive blue-screen shots and matte backgrounds. In the scene where Walter is dancing atop a dresser, the puppeteers performed Walter's choreography while wearing blue costumes against a blue screen. The end result had the puppeteers completely gone from the final shot. Look Effects were responsible for those visual effects shots, whereas Legacy Effects designed the mechanics for '80s Robot. A majority of the Muppet characters were also completely rebuilt for the film.
The majority of the songs for The Muppets were written by Bret McKenzie, who previously worked with Bobin on Flight of the Conchords. One of the film's five songs, "Pictures in My Head", was produced by McKenzie and written by Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis, and Chen Neeman. At the Muppet performers' behest, McKenzie rewrote lyrics where the characters directly referred to themselves as puppets. McKenzie was also informed during recording sessions with the performers that certain Muppets (such as chickens and penguins) do not speak and instead vocalize in onomatopoeic sounds. The film's score was composed by Christophe Beck. Beck described his role has having to "help tell the story musically, providing a sort of emotional glue―I had to pay special attention to blending the many styles of music so that it felt cohesive." Beck employed instruments he considered underused, as well as ones rarely used in an orchestral setting, such as the banjo.
The film's original soundtrack was released by Walt Disney Records on November 22, 2011, followed by a Spanish version of the soundtrack released as Los Muppets: Banda Sonora Original de Walt Disney Records on December 6, 2011. McKenzie won an Academy Award for the song "Man or Muppet", beating out "Real in Rio" from Rio. Although it was the fourth Muppet film to receive an Academy Award nomination, this was the first time a Muppet film had won an Academy Award and the first Muppet film nominated for Best Original Song since 1981's The Great Muppet Caper and the first time a Muppet film in general had been nominated for any kind of Academy Award since 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan.
The Muppets premiered at the 2011 Savannah Film Festival, and held its world premiere on November 12, 2011, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The film was released in the United States on November 23, 2011, and in the United Kingdom on February 10, 2012. Originally, the film was set to be released in the United States on Christmas 2011, but it was later moved to Thanksgiving 2011. It was also the opening gala at the 2012 Glasgow Youth Film Festival. Theatrically, the film was accompanied by Pixar's Toy Story Toons short Small Fry.
Segel and Adams appeared at CinemaCon in March 2011, to promote the project, showcasing several clips from the film. Clips from the film were also shown at Suffolk University in April 2011 during a Q&A with David Hoberman, Steve Whitmire and Kermit the Frog. Although there had been some speculation that the cast would appear at Comic-Con, no official announcement was made.
In May 2011, Kermit the Frog attended the world premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides at Disneyland to promote the upcoming Muppets release. A spoof romantic comedy trailer for the movie was attached to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and it was later released online under the faux name Green With Envy. Additional spoof trailers parodied The Hangover Part II (called The Fuzzy Pack), Green Lantern (called Being Green), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (called The Pig with the Froggy Tattoo), Paranormal Activity 3 (called Abnormal Activity), Happy Feet Two (called Dancing on Happy Feet), Puss in Boots (called Fuss in Boots) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (called Breaking Prawn). In November 2011, Brooks Brothers announced that it had designed a custom wardrobe for Kermit the Frog for the movie.
On August 23, 2011, Walt Disney Records released Muppets: The Green Album, a tribute album of popular Muppet songs performed by multiple contemporary artists, as part of the film's promotion., as well as reissuing the 2006 Christmas album on November 1, 2011. The Muppets also performed "Life's a Happy Song" on the November 15, 2011, episode of the American version of Dancing with the Stars.
Segel hosted Saturday Night Live on November 19, 2011, with the Muppets as guests. Kermit appeared on the Weekend Update segment, doing a "Really!?!" segment.
The Muppets were guest stars on WWE Monday Night RAW and interacted with several WWE Superstars including Jack Swagger, Hornswoggle, and Sheamus. Alongside director James Bobin's father, David, they also joined Olly Murs on stage during the UK version of The X Factor on November 27, 2011, to perform his new single "Dance With Me Tonight" and promote their new film.
An iPhone app called Tap Tap Muppets was released for the iPhone the day prior to the film's release. The app features six new musical numbers and three classic Muppet songs which are "The Muppet Show Theme," "Rainbow Connection," and "Mah Nà Mah Nà."
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released The Muppets on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital download on March 20, 2012, the same day the Muppets received a collective star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The release was produced in four different physical packages: a three-disc combo pack (Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy) with soundtrack download ("The Wocka Wocka Value Pack); a two-disc combo pack (Blu-ray and DVD); a one-disc DVD with soundtrack download; and a one-disc DVD without soundtrack download. The film was released digitally in high definition and standard definition. The two-disc edition's supplementary features include bloopers, deleted and extended scenes, "Muppet Intermission", "Scratching the Surface: A Hasty Examination of the Making of Disney's The Muppets", the fully intact version of "Let's Talk About Me", "A Little Screen Test on the Way to the Read Through," and an audio commentary with Jason Segel, James Bobin, and Nicholas Stoller. The three-disc combo pack also includes the theatrical spoof trailers (including exclusive, unreleased parody trailers of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Fast Five) and a digital download of the soundtrack, while still including the same features as the two-disc combo pack.
The Muppets debuted at No. 2 in Blu-ray and DVD sales in the United States according to Nielsen's sales chart. The film generated an additional $58.3 million in home media sales.
The Muppets was a commercial success, accumulating a box office gross nearly quadruple its $45 million budget. It grossed $6.5 million on its opening day and debuted in second place, behind The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. The following day, Thanksgiving Day, the film grossed $5.8 million for a two-day total of $12.5 million. From Friday to Sunday, The Muppets grossed $29.2 million, while holding onto the No. 2 spot. Overall, the film grossed $41.5 million in five days; during which, it outgrossed every previous Muppet film, excluding The Muppet Movie. The film closed on April 5, 2012, having grossed $88,631,237 in North America, along with $76,553,000 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $165,184,237, becoming the highest-grossing Muppet film and the first film in the series to gross over $100 million worldwide (unadjusted for inflation).
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 96% based on 209 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Clever, charming, and heartfelt, The Muppets is a welcome big screen return for Jim Henson's lovable creations that will both win new fans and delight longtime devotees." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews." CinemaScore audiences gave The Muppets an "A" grade rating on an A+ to F scale.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, praising the revitalized Muppets and their distinctive personalities. Justin Chang of Variety called it "an unexpected treat," noting that the film effortlessly blends "wised-up, self-reflective humor with old-fashioned let's-put-on-a-show pizzazz." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter praised the film as "A mostly winning return for childhood favorites from a prior century [that] looks to accomplish its goal of pleasing old fans and winning new ones." Alonso Duralde of The Wrap agreed writing that, "The Muppets has the same brilliant absurdity, anarchic humor, subtle uplift and ensemble comedy that fans have come to expect over the years." Both the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly praised the screenplay's self-referential humor, Jason Segel and Amy Adams' supporting roles, and the film's clever employment of cameos.
Michael Phillips gave the film three out of four stars, positively summarizing that "those of us who've had Muppets in our memory since childhood will find ourselves in a state of contentment." Peter Travers, writing for Rolling Stone, commended the film's musical segments, particularly Bret McKenzie's "Man or Muppet". The Boston Globe also gave it three out of four stars and said, "The result is refreshing on every level, a piece of nostalgia so old it's new again, and a breather from Hollywood's 3-D digital onslaught in favor of fur and fuzz." Christopher Kelly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram stated that the film was "much more than just an affectionate reimagining of familiar Muppets routines, [but it] is rooted in real emotions and characters," and that "they remain as committed as ever to doing what Muppets do best: putting on a grand show."
Prior to the film's release, some past Muppet performers were reportedly critical about the film's portrayal of the characters. Retired Muppet performer Frank Oz initially disapproved of the script and thought that the early version was disrespectful toward the characters.
After the film's release, Oz modified his earlier statements;
"I thought the film was really sweet and fun, a little too safe, a little retro. I prefer more cutting edge in the Muppets. But the main thing is everybody got back to appreciating The Muppets...it brought people back to The Muppets. Although they never really left, it's always been a kind of subculture, it's always been there in our popular culture a little bit. So I'm happy that people are happy."
In March 2012, after the critical and commercial success of the film, Disney secured a deal with Bobin and Stoller to direct and write, respectively, a new installment. LAter that month, Segel stated that he would have no involvement in the sequel. On April 24, Disney officially announced that the sequel was in development and that Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey were cast in the film, with Hoberman and Lieberman returning as producers, as well as McKenzie returning to write the film's songs. Muppets Most Wanted was released on March 21, 2014.