The overwhelming response you all had to the recent special “Star Wars” series we did as part of Film Nerd 2.0 has been beyond anything I could have hoped for, and I am genuinely thankful for each and every response. Today, though, I think I’ve got something even better for you.
For the last couple of years, Toshi’s been coming with me to occasional press days because of timing and logistics, and each time, he’s been intrigued by the entire process. He’s told me several times now that he wants to grow up to do the same thing that I do, and while I think that’s a big choice for a six-year-old to make, I am in a unique position to occasionally put together opportunities that are very special.
For example, with “The Muppets” coming out this month, I had a pretty good idea that we’d be speaking with some of the classic characters as part of the press day, and sure enough, when the invite came in, I saw that one of the interviews was a double-header with Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy.
There are few human superstars who have the sort of pure star power that the Muppets possess, and all day long at the Beverly Hilton, I saw examples of people being emotionally overwhelmed by sitting face to face with them. Yes, I know that they aren’t “real,” but they’re real in the sense that audiences have had an ongoing emotional relationship with them for 40 years at this point. I knew it was going to be amazing to meet them, but since I interviewed Elmo at this year’s Sundance, I had an idea that it might be even more magical if I put Toshi in that chair and let him ask the questions.
I told him that he needed to write his questions down, and that he needed to practice reading them in front of the mirror to get comfortable. He took the assignment seriously, too, and he came up with seven questions to ask them. I told him to be prepared to only ask three or four depending on time, and he made sure that he had his favorite ones up front so he’d get them in before time ran out.
The morning began with me interviewing Kirsten Dunst for “Melancholia,” and then we caught the elevator up to the floor that Disney had taken over for the day. Our first chat was with Amy Adams, and the boys were both speechless, since they’re big fans of “Enchanted” and “Night At The Museum 2” as well as “The Muppets” now, and they really enjoyed meeting her.
In the next room, though, it was finally time for the big event, and I made sure Toshi knew before-hand that if he didn’t feel comfortable doing it, i would step in. He told me that he was ready, though, and when we walked into the room, we saw Muppet performers Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson seated on the floor, in front of director’s chairs. Allen insisted on being in my arms, and I could tell he was trying to make sense of what he was seeing. Toshi rolled with it, though, saying hello to both of them as one of the crew guys lifted him into the interviewer’s chair. They got a quick sound level and then…
… well, as I had hoped, it was magic. There’s nothing like watching the Muppets talk to kids. When you look at the old “Sesame Street” episodes, kids simply buy into the reality of these characters when they’re talking to them, and Toshi managed to swallow his very visible nervousness and ask them a few very good questions. That applause you hear at the very end of the piece is, to say the least, uncommon in those rooms, and it was so sweet to see the way the junket crew went out of their way to make him comfortable and to let him know he’d done a good job.
As soon as we stepped into the hall and the door closed behind us, Allen let out a loud and plaintive, “Daddy, THEY AREN’T REAL!” I explained that the guys he saw were just helping The Muppets, and he thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “Okay. Good.” That’s all the explanation he needed to accept the evidence of his eyes. After all, even though I was in the room and saw Whitmire and Jacobson at work, when I watch this video, it is very clear that Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are alive and well.
One of the last things we did before we left the Beverly Hilton was take a picture with Kermit and Piggy, and I hope the boys treasure it as much I’m sure I will in the future. It really was a dream of a day.
My thanks to Disney for working with us to make this happen, and to Whitmire and Jacobson for going above and beyond. It was a wonderful afternoon.
Now I’m just worried about Toshi taking my job.
“The Muppets” opens everywhere on November 23.