Actor Jason Segal, best known for appearing stark naked in the R-rated film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," seems the least likely person to bring back Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, Beaker and the rest of the Muppet gang from their semi-oblivion – until you get to know him.
"I watch ['The Muppet Movie'] when I go to sleep a lot," Segel said. "I feel like I'm painting myself as the strangest guy of all time."
The 31-year-old actor, writer and Muppet enthusiast, who got his big break on the short-lived 1999 TV series "Freaks and Geeks," was entrusted with re-launching one of the most beloved family franchises of the last 50 years as a new musical film, "The Muppets" -- which reportedly cost $50 million to make.
"I think that first there was a fear that I was going do it with a sense of irony," Segel, who also stars in the movie, said. "But I think very quickly they saw that it doesn't take long talking to me to see that I truly love the Muppets in a very pure way."
When the script was done, the life-long Muppets fan got to hear and watch his words spoken aloud by the characters he has loved for decades -- which brought tears to his eyes.
"I'm not embarrassed to say I cried," Segel said. "They brought Kermit out of his box and he – 'cause Kermit is a puppet, he lives in a box -- and all of a sudden Steve Whitmire's hand went inside Kermit and it was alive, and then he said the first line that I had written for him -- and I started crying. They had to stop for, like, a couple minutes while a 28-year-old, at the time, grown man tried not to cry hysterically."
"It was a dream come true," he added. "It really was. It was one of the coolest moments of my life."
The popular Muppets, who were once ubiquitous in American culture, haven't had a new TV special or feature film since 1999 -- the less-than-successful "Muppets From Space" -- unless you count the numerous Internet parodies about various characters, such as "Sad Kermit" and "Bert is Evil."
First created by Jim Henson in 1955, the Muppets originally set the standard for clever, gently subversive family comedy in teaching letters, numbers and values on "Sesame Street," which then led to the popular TV series, "The Muppet Show," and six pun-filled films, starting with "The Muppet Movie" in 1979.
"I wanted to bring the Muppets back to those first three movies and then 'The Muppet Show,'" Segel said. "Those, to me, they defined who I wanted to be as a comedian as a kid, and so I went after it and pitched it to Disney and they let me take a shot at it."
It was Segel who ensured that "Sarah Marshall," a film he co-wrote, ended with a "lavish puppet musical" about Dracula longing to find love. He still has those puppet characters and a collection of other puppets and Muppet-paraphernalia in his house, which he bought from Jim Henson's daughter, Lisa.
"I'm lucky because now it's my job," Segel said. "But for a while I was the unemployed, 6' 4" weirdo who just has Muppet paraphernalia everywhere. I mean-- it was weird. I acknowledge it."
He added that when his "Muppets" co-star Amy Adams heard about his puppet collection, she told him that he would be single for the rest of his life.
Over the years other popular shows such as "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "The Simpsons," even a few Pixar films, have used Muppet influences, but no one has mined their vein of "kind comedy." For this "Muppet" movie, Segel created a new character, Walter, a Muppet he developed while learning the Muppet rules forged by Henson, who died in 1990.
"The big one was, you never mention the word 'puppet' or allude to the fact that they are puppets," Segel said. "They explained to us that that gets really complicated for a kid to understand that Walter is a puppet but Kermit is a frog and Miss Piggy's a pig -- they are not puppets, you know?"
"The Muppets" premieres on Nov. 23, and will bring the same old joyfulness that has always made them lovable to a new generation.
"All of their jokes are good-natured and pure and kind," Segel said. "I like to think that part of what's so magical about the Muppets is that they remind us of the best version of ourselves."