It’s time to play the music, It’s time to light the lights, It’s time to Meet the Muppets…again?
Why can’t this lovable bunch of characters find their footing in this new generation?
Before I dive in, I should let you all know that I am a relatively new Muppets fan.
I’ve always enjoyed Muppet*Vision 3D in Disney World but it wasn’t until The Muppets in 2011 that I fully realized my love for Kermit and the gang. Once I saw that beautiful movie, I was instantly hooked on this franchise.
Whether it was their unique style of comedy, the wonderful musical numbers or just the warmth that you feel whenever you see the movie in general, I needed more. Thankfully, there were plenty of Muppets films that came out starting back in 1979 with The Muppet Movie.
As I got lost in their earlier films, the more I realized how smart these movies actually were and how these were movies not just for children, but for people of all ages. The Muppets really reach everybody, so why is it not as popular as it once was?
Muppets in Film
For this piece, I will be focusing on this new generation of the Muppets (starting in 2011).
When Jason Segel penned and starred in the 2011 regathering of the Muppets, this was supposed to be the start of Muppet-mania for a new audience.
The Muppets was about two brothers, Gary (Segel) and Walter (new Muppet), who were huge fans of the Muppets. While Gary was physically a human and Walter was physically a Muppet, over the course of the movie, they grew and learned that they can be both but with one side taking control.
On a trip to Los Angeles (and more specifically, Muppet Studios) Walter finds out that there is a plan in place to tear down the Muppet Studios to dig for oil. To stop this evil plan, they need to raise a certain amount of money. Gary and Walter track down Kermit only to find out that the group has went their separate ways to do their own things. Kermit, Gary, Walter and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), go off on a quest to bring the Muppets back together so they can put on a show to save Muppet Studios and maybe even bring back the Muppets themselves.
At the end of the movie, the gang succeeds in saving the Muppets Studio and most importantly, give them new found popularity.
The Muppets grossed $165.2 million in the box office, which is fantastic considering their budget was only $45 million. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 95% freshness with an average rating of 8. It even won Best Song at the Academy Awards for ‘Man or Muppet.’ That is a fantastic start for this Muppets ‘reboot’ and it signified that they were back and we would see a lot more Muppets in the coming years.
Which was partially true.
Coming off the success of The Muppets, Disney announced a sequel to be released in 2014 titled Muppets Most Wanted.
MMW would star Rickey Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell. The plot of this movie was the Muppets going on a world tour due to their new popularity. They hire Gervais’ character as a tour manager. Turns out Gervais was the second most evil person in the world, and the only evil being before him was a frog named Constantine, who happened to look just like Kermit but with a mole. After Constantine basically switched identity’s with Kermit one day in an alley, Constantine joined the Muppets as Kermit. When Kermit wasn’t on stage performing with the rest of the group, him and Gervais would steal valuables from the venues they performed at.
Flash forward to the end of the film, both Constantine and Gervais get caught and go to jail, Kermit and Miss Piggy get back together and that was the end of this adventure.
While the first film in this ‘reboot’ was a success, MMW was not. It made only $80.4 million at the box office, and wasn’t as critically praised as its predecessor. While I personally enjoyed the film, loving its opening number and just enjoying another fun Muppets adventure, others did not. Many mentioned that it lacked the magic of the first film. While I agree that it didn’t have the same magic, I defend MMW by saying that it is a different type of movie.
The Muppets was a heartfelt letter to Kermit and the gang, saying that we needed their humor, heart and songs back in the world that we live in. Getting the gang back together, having the characters mend their relationships that may have broken off over time, it was a loving movie about a family getting back together.
When you stick the heart and soul of the Muppets (Kermit) in a prison for the entire movie, it is really hard to have that same soul when he is separated from everyone else. The movie was a fun Muppets adventure that anyone could enjoy. You were able to sit in the theater and enjoy the movie knowing that it’ll have a happy ending and you’ll have a lot of fun watching it.
Sadly, there were no more plans of future Muppet films once MMW ended its theatrical run. But that wasn’t the end of the Muppets. There were several other projects that would be worked on once the curtain closed on their theatrical releases.
More Muppets Please
One of the projects was called Muppet Moments. This was a short-form series where the Muppets would have conversations with children.
One project that I wish I was able to see was The Muppets Take the Hollywood Bowl in 2017.
Hosted by Bobby Moynihan (SNL), the Muppets would sing songs, perform classic sketches and it concluded with a firework finale. The stage show would go on and perform the stage show in London in 2018.
Even though the Muppets big screen adventures may have ended, there were high hopes of the franchise finding its home back on TV where it all started.
The Muppets on TV
A new prime time series featuring the Muppets premiered in 2015. Taking on the style of The Office, The Muppets would also be a workplace comedy, but instead of a paper company, it would be a late night talk show with Miss Piggy as the star (obviously). The show lasted 16 episodes and was cancelled after one season.
While unfortunate, the show didn’t capitalize on what made The Muppets great. To start, the show while having an ensemble cast, didn’t bring any of that heart or magic to the show. With the first eight episodes, each character had their own thing going on and they would rarely have group plots outside of the show.
The show didn’t have the same comedy that we would expect from the gang. It would just copy things that we deal with and make one line jokes about it like answering a phone hands free while driving, being an Uber driver, and going to trivia night. It was nice to see them doing these things but the workplace atmosphere felt overdone due to the popularity of The Office.
The show did have some signs of getting better in the second half of episodes. In the latter half of the season, the show did more ensemble bits in the episodes and it worked really well. While they weren’t laugh out loud comedy bits, it was a lot of fun having Ru Paul announce Muppets as they walk down a catwalk in different outfits made out of garbage bags.
Another part of the final 8 episodes was the changing relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy. Between the end of MMW and the beginning of this series, they have split up. Kermit has moved on to a new pig, while Miss Piggy hasn’t found the same success. Towards the end of the series, they realize that throughout everything they’ve been through, they always had each other. This was one of the few moments in the series that showed the true heart that we expect from the Muppets, it is just unfortunate that most of the heartfelt moments that we love to see from them, came when it was too late.
One other Muppets show on the silver screen is in animated form called Muppet Babies. While I do not know much about this show, besides the fact that it launched in 2018 and has 24 episodes. More episodes are also currently in development so it isn’t cancelled, which is always good news.
So with their big screen careers on hiatus, their broadcast tv career cancelled, where else can the Muppets go to bring in that audience that they regained after 2011?
When Disney announced their new streaming service, they released information about two brand new Muppets themed shows coming to the service.
The first show would be called Muppets Live Another Day. Starring Josh Gad (Frozen), this new show would take place following the conclusion of The Muppets Take Manhattan. With the Muppets disbanded, Kermit has to bring everybody back together in order to find Rowlf.
With a brand new show picking up right after the end of one of the classic Muppet adventures, Muppet fans, like myself, were super excited that we would be able to see brand new content featuring the Muppets.
Sadly, this fever dream didn’t last long. In an Instagram post made by Josh Gad, he announced that due to creative differences, the show was no longer being made. The project would feature original songs by Bobby and Kristen Lopez (Frozen) and be directed by Jason Moore who also directed “Avenue Q” and “Pitch Perfect.”
With this show no longer being made, lets look at the second show in development: Muppets Now.
Muppets Now is a short-form improv comedy series. It was announced at the Disney+ panel back at D23 in August 2019. In the teaser trailer shown during the panel, not much information was revealed other than it was coming in 2020.
As of right now, that show is still being developed so that is something we can look forward to in the coming year.
Muppets in Disney Parks
With the screen presence of the Muppets up in the air, we still have Muppet*Vision in Hollywood Studios right?
Yes. Muppet*Vision is still standing, but for how much longer?
Muppet*Vision opened up in then-MGM Studios in 1991 and has been a staple of the theme park ever since. I won’t go into detail about this attraction because it would just make me want to book another trip to Disney World and I will not let you fuel my Disney addiction.
In recent years, there have been plenty of rumors that question the attractions future in the park. The biggest part of these rumors is due to its placement between Star Tours and the brand new Star Wars themed area, Galaxys Edge.
While there haven’t been any confirmation to these rumors, the presence of Muppets in the Disney theme parks went down a notch recently.
In 2017, Great Moments in History with The Muppets debuted in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom. This short live show would have the Muppets teach the guests either about the Declaration of Independence, or the ride of Paul Revere.
If you haven’t seen this show, you are too late, Disney World recently ended the show in their recent string of budget cuts. It is super unfortunate since this was easily one of my favorite things to do in Magic Kingdom.
So as of November 2019, what Muppet media do we have left to live for?
Muppet*Vision 3D and Muppets Now are the only two things still standing. One of them having not yet premiered, while the other has been in Disney parks for close to 30 years without receiving an update.
Thanks to Disney+, we now have all the previous Muppet films and The Muppets (2015 show) available to watch at your pleasure.
Why Happens Now?
The Muppets community is very vocal, but we need our voices to be heard. We need to have new Muppets media be produced by creators that grew up with the Muppets and live with the their mottos, gimmicks and nonsense in their veins.
One candidate in mind that can bring the Muppets back to greatness is Bobby Moynihan.
He absolutely loves the Muppets, and he hosted the Muppets live events at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2017. He has sketch comedy experience through SNL and is a part of the Disney family already, voicing Louie in Ducktales (woo-ooo).
If possible, I would love for Jason Segel to come back and create more content with the Muppets. He helped write the comeback movie and he has a fascination with puppets outside of the Muppet variety.
What I’m trying to say is this, the Muppets are in danger. While I believe that Disney is a caring owner of the franchise, they need to create content based off what makes the Muppets great, and that includes making sure it has heart and the fantastic, humorous moments from the gang. Muppets Live Another Day was our closest shot, I believe, to having that perfect balance, but with that cancelled, our dreams are put into short YouTube style videos with Muppets Now.
We can bring the Muppets back to their glory days, all it takes is a little help from “the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”
*not me in general, but us, the Muppets community.