For decades, The Muppets, headlined by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, have delighted fans. The popularity surrounding Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, and Animal would ultimately see the group of felted friends beloved by millions, eventually leading to its acquisition by The Walt Disney Company in 2004. However, one important part of what made The Muppets work has been left behind by Disney.
Those same characters created by The Jim Henson Company in 1955 would enjoy colossal success that led to several feature films, The Muppet Show, and even their own section at Walt Disney World. People absolutely adore them, and for good reason. The puppet-led cast is full of hilarious characters that many resonate with deeply. The Muppets have become a staple of American Culture, much like Mickey Mouse.
Jim Henson’s Original Muppets
Jim Henson, the famed American puppeteer and animator, passed away in 1990 from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. His death would cause the world to stand still as many remembered the hilarious characters that Henson was responsible for creating.
Henson created his Muppets in 1955. Although the world would go on to fall in love with our felty-green friend Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog was the first Muppet to make his television debut. Rowlf would appear regularly on The Jimmy Dean Show from 1963 to 1966.
In 1966, The Muppets would first appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. Famously singing the now meme, “Mahna Mahna,” this performance and advertisement familiarity of the brand on PBS would ultimately lead to creating their own “late night” program, The Muppet Show, in 1974. The rest is history.
The Muppets Make the Movies
The Muppet Show was a huge hit, featuring celebrity guests, quirky sketch-comedy, and a slew of new Muppets; America fell in love with Henson’s creation. Featuring high-profile names like Mark Hammil and Gladys Knight, the show would become can’t-miss-TV for many Americans each and every week.
The next step was obviously the jump to full-length feature films. Successful movies to follow would include The Muppet Movie (1979), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), and Muppet Treasure Island (1996). Muppet mania had officially begun, and fans couldn’t get enough.
Henson’s famous puppets would find their way into every nook and cranny of the entertainment industry. From merchandise to advertising, Kermit and friends were literally everywhere. The success of The Muppets would lead to several other Henson projects like The Dark Crystal (1982) and the popular kid’s show Fraggle Rock, but none would enjoy the global recognition that The Muppets obtained. Henson would also lend his talents to the creation of characters like Cookie Monster and Big Bird for the show Sesame Street.
Disney Purchases the Puppets
Although The Muppets continued their run after Henson’s death, they would enjoy rejuvenated fame once Disney acquired them in 2004. The famed puppets would become part of Disney’s vast collection of properties, headlining shows and attractions within its theme parks and becoming a feature of many shows and Disney films.
Disney would revamp The Muppet Movie in 2011 alongside Jason Segel and Amy Adams. They would also be featured in many projects for Disney+, such as Muppets Haunted Mansion and The Muppets Mayhem.
Much like Star Wars and Marvel, Disney would venture to get the most bang for their buck regarding Kermit and the gang. The Muppets were everywhere, featured in shows at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, even being part of the theme of the Regal Eagle Smokehouse at the American Adventure pavilion in EPCOT. Disney was getting their money’s worth.
Famed Puppeteer Frank Oz
Most familiar with Frank Oz know the famous puppeteer for one particular role. Oz, most notably, was the man beneath the Jedi Master Yoda in Star Wars. Interestingly enough, Oz would accomplish work on another project that Disney would eventually acquire, The Muppets.
However, once the acquisition took place, Oz eventually chose not to continue with Disney’s take on the felt favorites, citing creative differences between Henson’s vision for the characters and Disney’s. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Frank Oz explained the creative issues that ultimately led to Disney not wanting the famed puppeteer to return.
“I’d love to do the Muppets again, but Disney doesn’t want me and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me for 10 years. They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in… The soul’s not there. The soul is what makes things grow and be funny. But I miss them and love them.”
Oz claims that Disney’s drive behind Henson’s characters is different from what their original creator had in mind, leading to a soulless project that Oz simply can’t get behind. Given Frank Oz’s weighted opinion regarding the iconic characters, the fact that he isn’t considered in the creative decision-making process is shocking. He’s ultimately responsible not only for the mannerisms and mechanics of classic characters like Yoda, but he also has shown plenty of awareness when it comes to providing creative necessity to his characters. His opinions would ideally be valuable to Disney, however, according to Oz, they “don’t want him back.”
The Muppets Continue Their Success Without Frank Oz
Although it seems that, according to Oz, Disney doesn’t want him involved in any future Muppet projects, this hasn’t stopped the property from performing well. Critically acclaimed projects like The Muppets Mayhem on Disney+ have garnered fantastic reviews from fans. Disney also keeps the characters alive within their parks, the latest appearance being at EPCOT’s International Food & Wine Festival.
Despite Frank Oz’s feelings regarding the direction Disney has taken with Henson’s creation, something is still working. Although created almost 70 years ago, fans still love Kermit and his friends.
Keeping to tradition, Disney surely will continue to create unique and fan-friendly programming surrounding the famous puppets, even without the genius that is Frank Oz. Much like Star Wars and Marvel, as long as consumers keep consuming The Muppets, Disney will keep using them.