Resurrecting ‘Muppets’ in Disney tradition

Billion-Dollar Composer: Christophe Beck

It’s a Tuesday morning in late September, and composer Christophe Beck is in the control booth at the Sony scoring stage, listening as 83 musicians play his cue 2M4 from the upcoming Disney movie “The Muppets.”

The scene has tourists getting off a bus and visiting the old Muppet Theater, long unused and in disrepair. When a young fan sneaks into Kermit the Frog’s dressing room — where a portrait of Kermit and Muppet creator Jim Henson can be seen on the wall — the music gently shifts from light and bouncy to tender and delicate, with a brief plucking of banjo strings as the camera lingers on Kermit’s favorite instrument in one corner.

Via intercom to conductor Tim Davies, Beck looks up from his score to suggest a few modifications: “Tuba, that first note can be a little lighter. Violins at the downbeat of bar 40, let’s make that nice and short. Trumpets at 19 and 20, can we have quick diminuendoes on each one?”

Forty minutes and five takes later, the two minutes and 49 seconds of cue 2M4 is perfectly recorded. Director James Bobin arrives in time to hear a playback of Beck’s climactic cue — three minutes and 40 seconds of alternately sentimental and triumphant music designed to leave audiences laughing, crying and generally feeling good.

“Like many people my age,” says Beck a few days later, “I grew up watching the Muppets. All those characters resonated from my childhood. My job is the same as it is on any movie, which is storytelling through music. In the case of ‘The Muppets,’ they knew they wanted a traditional orchestral score. They wanted it to feel like a Disney movie, and they wanted to incorporate as many of the tunes from the songs in the score as possible.”

“Chris and I were talking about Muppet music history,” Bobin says. “The score should feel as though it’s of that time, to a degree, but certainly have a contemporary element.

“Chris is just the guy for that, because he has such a good feel for traditional score, at the same time giving it that little edge which makes it feel like it’s of today.”

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