Frank Oz: Muppets maestro discusses 'Little Shop of Horrors' and the remaking of his classics


Image Credit: Everett Collection

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I don’t know if you heard about this, but just last week news started to break about a potential remake of Little Shop
I saw that too! I know nothing about it. I saw that and thought, “I’m really curious to see this!” [Laughs]

It’s apparently going to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the playwright behind Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, is said to be involved. Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen that show…
Well I did, but first of all, I think Levitt would be great as Seymour. Terrific. I did see Spider-Man, but I saw it in the first week of previews and it was dreadful. But this is the playwright who supposedly saved it and reconstructed it. So maybe it’s good news!

What are your thoughts on remakes in general? Is it something that’s bound to happen? Is it something that fans and people such as yourself, who worked on previous versions, should embrace?
The only reason for me to make a remake is if you have another take on it. I mean, I did Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as a [version of] Bedtime Story because I felt that what was there, we could make a little bit better. And I guess when they did the stage play of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, they felt they could do a different take on that. And when I did Death at a Funeral, I know Chris [Rock] wanted to have it in such a way that the black community could see it, because it was [previously] all whites. Nobody from the black community saw [my version]. So if there’s a legitimate reason, yeah. And if it’s much better than the original or equally good, like the incredible Godfather Part II, that’s stunning, then there’s a reason to make it. But just because you own the property and “Hey, it’s 20 years later, what the hell, let’s just make it,” no, that doesn’t make any sense to me.

You’ve spoken a bit about your concerns regarding the Muppet franchise, which has come back and had a resurgence in recent months. Were you pleased to see the property embraced again so passionately by audiences? The film did pretty well…
It did great, and I’m pleased the affection for the Muppets is still so incredibly strong. You know, I probably shouldn’t be talking about that film because I have my own feelings about it. I don’t want to hit it, but there’s things that people don’t know about the actual shooting of it, and I probably shouldn’t get into it. I do feel that everybody enjoyed it and that’s great. For me, it was a homogenized version, but you know, that’s the way they saw it. If it comes from me, it’s going to sound like sour grapes and I don’t want that. If people love the characters, they love the characters. They’re just a little bit different to me, that’s all.

When I stop and think back on all the characters that you’ve had a hand in creating, and how they’ve affected not just my generation but the generations before and likely the generations to come, I’m a little awed by it. Do you ever look at what you’ve accomplished and think, “Wow — these are things that stay with people their whole lives!” How does that make you feel?
For years, essentially I didn’t think about it because I just kept on working and enjoying work. Even when I kind of stopped performing — although I’ll do Sesame Street one day a year just for fun — even then didn’t think about it. I just spent my time being a director. But since I’ve been recently married this past year, my wife’s the one that’s really brought to my attention that what I did has more value than I think. So, the answer is, I’m slowly at this late date starting to understand that not only did I have an impact, but I had the impact because of Jim (Henson) and all the other guys too. I’m the last guy standing of the original four, so I know when people compliment me, I know that’s not just me. I know I represent Jim and all the other guys [writer Jerry Juhl and Muppet designer Don Sahlin].

Is there one character you particularly miss performing the most? I would think it would be Miss Piggy because you’ve had so much time with her, but you’ve performed as Bert, Cookie Monster… The list goes on.
I don’t know. I get asked that a lot. I love Piggy because of her layers of neurosis. She covers all the pain she’s in and that’s what makes her funny. I love all those neurotic layers of her and I love different parts of other characters: Fozzie’s insecurity and Cookie’s obsession. I love that stuff. I think Piggy’s harder because I’ve gotten older now and when you get older, your voice goes a little deeper and so it’s harder for me to get the highs I used to. But I guess the character that’s closest to me probably is Grover. If I had to give an answer I’d probably give that one. Other characters I worked on, but that one just organically came about.

Little Shop of Horrors will be re-released by Warner Home Video in the fourth quarter of 2012. For more information on BAM’s “A Night of Oz,” or to purchase tickets, visit

Read more:
The Story Behind ‘Little Shop’ Extended 1998 DVD
‘The Muppets': The gang’s all here

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