One of the big takeaways from "Being Elmo," the fun documentary about Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, is that the "Sesame Street" crew had initially tried a different puppeteer and voice for the adorable and/or annoying character. It hadn't worked at all: Elmo sounded like a gravel-voiced cousin of Oscar the Grouch. After everyone had given up on Elmo, Clash (literally) got his hand on him and turned him into the sweet-natured, baby-talking Muppet that became a lucrative brand name. Making effortlessly vibrant Muppets isn't as easy as it looks.
The same with Walter, the brand new Muppet who's the star of "The Muppets." The New York Times has a great piece that goes into detail about how the producers finally figured out the right tone for a character who's in just about every scene of a film that's supposed to relaunch the Muppet franchise. That's a lot of pressure, but in the end, it turns out that channeling Michael Cera was all they needed.
In the movie, Walter and Jason Segel's character Gary are brothers who are lifelong Muppet fans. But after figuring out every little detail of Walter -- including if he would have ears or not (not all Muppets do, you know) -- they still weren't sure what sort of personality he should have. Finally, the producers gave Walter's puppeteer, Peter Linz, a suggestion on how to shape the character:
"They called and said nobody had given them exactly what they wanted, but that they wanted me to fly to Los Angeles to try again," Mr. Linz said. "They told me to think about Michael Cera -- that if he was a puppeteer he would already have the job."
Having seen the movie, we can't say that we necessarily thought "Michael Cera" when Walter was on screen. Walter -- thank goodness -- doesn't seem nearly emo/hipster enough; he's more giddily wide-eyed and sincere. But we will say that, now that we think about it, we're surprised Cera didn't do a cameo in the film, considering that they've got folks like Rashida Jones and Zach Galifianakis in there. Of course, it's funny that the Muppets brass wanted their lead to be like Cera at all: The man hasn't had a hit in quite some time. But, then again, neither has Kermit the Frog.