The Muppets are some of the most beloved television and movie characters of all time and have become staples of pop culture. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t recognize the likes of Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, or Miss Piggy. In 2004, decades after the Muppets were first introduced to the world, the franchise was purchased by Disney. Ever since, Disney has proven time and time again that they don’t really care about the IP. Some would say that they’ve completely mistreated the adorable puppet characters and their shows and movies and that the property would be better off if a different company was at the helm. Let’s dive into why that may be.
Since Disney has purchased the Muppets from the Henson family, several Muppets properties have been released, including two TV specials, two theatrically-released movies, a short-lived primetime series, a 3D animated reboot of Muppet Babies, a six episode Disney+ series, and a Halloween special. For having the rights to the franchise for almost two decades, that’s not a lot of content.
The TV specials, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa aren’t necessarily bad, but they don’t hold a candle to the likes of Muppet Treasure Island or The Muppet Christmas Carol. The primetime series, simply titled The Muppets, was essentially the Muppets’ take on The Office and was surprisingly great, but was never picked up for a second season. Muppets Now, which streamed straight to Disney+, only lasted for six episodes and was not very entertaining outside of a solid couple of sketches. The Muppets Haunted Mansion was fun, but okay at best.
All that being said, 2011’s The Muppets, which was the first Muppets film to release in theaters since the 90s, was especially great and even won the Oscar Best Original Song. The direct sequel, Muppets Most Wanted was less well received, but gave the world some great jokes and memes. This, at the time, seemed like a step in the right direction for Disney’s handling of the Muppets.
Outside of the 2011 movie, it’s quite sad to look at the Muppets content that was released under Disney and compare it to the outstanding content that came before the purchase. Not only that, but there’s still plenty of Muppets content missing from Disney+, like The Muppets Go Hollywood, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppets From Space, the classic Muppet Babies cartoon, and more. Disney owns the rights to these properties, but cares so little that they aren’t even on their primary streaming service. The original The Muppet Show eventually made its way onto the streaming service, but it took quite some time to get there rather than it being available from Disney+’s launch.
It’s also worth noting that Steve Whitmire, the voice actor of Kermit the Frog, was fired for standing up for the character’s integrity when changes were made over time. This decision was made by Brian Henson, the chairman of the Jim Henson Company and son of Muppets creator Jim Henson, and not Disney, but it’s strange that it took him so long that he waited until Disney bought the IP to do so. It seems like the two butting heads creatively more than anything, but it doesn’t help Disney’s case any since it happened under them. The latest voice actor, Matt Vogel, isn’t nearly as great in the role and honestly sounds a tad off.
With the random releases of Muppets content under Disney’s ownership, it’s unfortunately clear that they have no real idea of what to do with them. There’s no roadmap in place for Muppets-related content. They just sort of occasionally push something out to make a quick buck or to remind people that they have the rights to Kermit and his friends.
The 2011 film proved they have what it takes to recapture the beloved Muppets magic from decades ago; they just need to utilize what made that work more. Yes, it would be great if a different company took the reins and steered the Muppets in the right direction again, but it’s not necessarily needed. Disney has the ability and the tools to make something truly great with the Muppets. They just need to care enough to actually do it. Hopefully they’ll have it all figured out in time.