MuppetVision 3D

The Muppets have been a mainstay of popular culture for decades, seemingly capable of reviving themselves and able to adapt to different eras and audiences. For some, it’s impossible to think of the Muppets without thinking of the Walt Disney Company, although they’ve only been an official entity of Disney since 2004. But with The Muppet Show now streaming on Disney+, and with plenty of their films under the Disney banner as well, it’s easy to make that long term association.

Yet the simplest way the Muppets endure at Disney isn’t on a streaming service – it’s at a theme park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida is an imperfect park, but its true crown jewel is Muppet*Vision 3D, an immersive cinematic experience that turns 30 on May 16. It’s one of the great all-time attractions, so to celebrate, let’s count the 30 ways that Muppet*Vision 3D continues to excel.

Jim Henson’s last go-round as Kermit

We’re now 31 years removed from the tragic passing of Jim Henson. Though the Muppets have endured since his death, there’s a pretty clear demarcation from when he was part of the Muppet crew and after he was gone. Muppet*Vision 3D is a visual representation of that demarcation – premiering at what was once Disney-MGM Studios a year to the day after his death, the show is the last time you’ll ever get to see his version of Kermit the Frog.

Pre-show movie

Depending on what time you get to the theater, you may only have to wait a couple minutes to enter and watch Muppet*Vision 3D. But then you’ll miss out on the gags in the pre-show movie, which takes places on three separate TV screens perched near the ceiling of the queue. There’s plenty of wit, as when Rizzo the Rat dons a Mickey Mouse costume and shrugs off the fact that he looks nothing like the icon – “What do they know, they’re tourists!” 

Movie-poster gags

The Muppets love a good pun, and there’s plenty of them in the form of movie posters for Muppet versions of genre films in the show building. The Bride of Frankenstein turns into The Bride of Froggen-schwein and The Poseidon Adventure turns into The Pigseidon Adventure, to name just a couple examples. Yes, these are goofy plays on words, but…well, that’s the whole point.

Detailed queue

Walt Disney Imagineering excels at adding details you might otherwise miss if you’re not looking closely enough, and there’s tons of them in Muppet*Vision 3D. From the start of the building, where a directory identifies Muppets by clever departments, to the cleverly named doors waiting to let you in, it’s the little details that make this a whole experience, not just a funny movie.

Signs aplenty

One of those details? Signs in the queue. Take, for instance, a sign near the front that says “Back in 5 minutes, key under the mat”. You might want to take a look under that mat and see what you find. Grace notes like this are what makes Muppet*Vision 3D so special. Watching it is only part of the fun.

A way to take a cool break

When you travel to Walt Disney World, even if you try to take things slow, you wear yourself out. There’s a lot of ground to cover at each park, and eventually, you want to just spend 15 to 30 minutes sitting on your butt, relaxing. Among its many charms, Muppet*Vision 3D allows guests to…well, do just that. If you spend enough time with the pre-show, there’s plenty of time for you to recharge your mental and physical batteries.

In-show animatronics

It’s not just that Muppet*Vision 3D features all the Muppets you know and love. In some cases, you get to see them in the theater with you, and not just thanks to some cheaps 3D tricks. No, there are Audio-Animatronic versions of plenty of Muppet support characters interacting and conversing with each other, a Disney Cast Member, and characters on the screen.

Cheap 3D tricks

Kermit says that Muppet*Vision 3D won’t stoop to any of these, but that’s a line that exists in the script simply so it can set up…well, cheap 3D tricks, like the title of the show zooming out at the audience. Muppet*Vision 3D doesn’t go all in on in-theater thrills or surprises, but its 3D gags are corny and cheesy, meaning that they’re very Muppety in nature.

A lack of cheap 4D tricks

Oh, there are plenty of 3D tricks at Muppet*Vision 3D – you’d expect them in the title. But while the show building isn’t without surprises up its sleeves, there’s a dearth of 4D trickery. Later shows like Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and It’s Tough to be a Bug rely as much on theater chairs equipped with devices that would shoot out odors or tiny objects meant to make you think of a mouse or a spider crawling up your leg. Muppet*Vision 3D has none of that, which may seem quaint but makes it a lot more enjoyable.

A true movie-theater experience

In part because the film eschews 4D trickery, Muppet*Vision 3D feels like a real movie. And the fact that the film was made before the preponderance of digital technology – plus the acknowledgment of someone running the projector, even if it’s a Muppet – makes it unavoidable that this is a true moviegoing experience. And at the Disney parks, that’s always a win.

Early computer-animation technology

Though it’s true that Muppet*Vision 3D is one of the most delightful and wonderful theme-park attractions to ever exist, it’s also a product of the early 1990s. To wit: Waldo C. Graphic, a fully computer-animated Muppet character created within the context of the show by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. Waldo C. Graphic is a mischief-maker who still looks a whole lot like early computer animation. Could he look slicker now? Sure, but that would ruin the old-fashioned appeal of Waldo.

3D glasses that are actually 3D glasses

This is an aesthetic choice that may seem obvious. “Aren’t all 3D glasses…well, 3D glasses?” Technically, yes, but when you travel to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to watch It’s Tough to be a Bug, you’re not wearing 3D glasses. No, they’re “bug eyes”. And in the Mickey’s PhilharMagic show, you’ve got “opera glasses”. And so on. At least at Muppet*Vision 3D, a pair of 3D glasses is a pair of 3D glasses.

An elder statesman of the park

This one’s almost process by elimination. Muppet*Vision 3D is not the oldest attraction still running at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That would be the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (though it remains closed due to pandemic-related restrictions), which opened in 1989. No, Muppet*Vision 3D is the second-oldest attraction at the park. Though Disney’s Hollywood Studios refreshes itself constantly, it’s nice to know that there’s some sense of the park’s legacy represented in this daffy attraction.

The Muppet ensemble

Despite only being 15 minutes long (not including the pre-show), Muppet*Vision 3D is most successful because it brings together the entire Muppet ensemble. Since it’s short, there’s only so much time allotted, but all of the Muppets get something to do in this film, which matters as much as getting to hear the original performers’ voices.

Distinctive to one theme park

We’re mostly past the time when the attractions you experience in one theme park were unique to that theme park. If you go to Disneyland, you may ride a variation on a familiar attraction – the two U.S. versions of Pirates of the Caribbean are different – but you won’t ride a ton of attractions specific to that park. The same is mostly true at Walt Disney World, but Muppet*Vision 3D is an exception. For a long time, you could find this film at Disney California Adventure, but since it closed a few years ago, the only place in the world to enjoy this film in person is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. 

A subversive tone

The best Muppet material, whether in films or television, is edgier than you might expect. Yes, the Muppets are appropriate for all ages, but that means they’re not just for children. Muppet*Vision 3D, being a theme-park attraction, is absolutely an all-ages affair, but it’s got plenty of wry humor and sarcasm, with jokes that are for adults more than for kids without being aggressively inappropriate or reliant on pop-culture references. It’s a true last gasp of subversion for the Muppets.

The best use of the Muppets in the parks

Disney has tried, throughout the last few decades, to incorporate the Muppets into the theme parks with varying levels of success. They’ve appeared in live form to skewer American history over at Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, and there were some Muppet Lab gags too. But Muppet*Vision 3D remains the top tier of the Muppets at the parks. (The bar has been raised for you, upcoming Disney+ special where the Muppets go to the Haunted Mansion.)

The best use of the Muppets by Disney…ever?

The important caveat here is “by Disney”. The best use of the Muppets overall would have to be either the 1970s-era variety show in which they starred or The Muppet Movie from 1979. But since Disney became their overseers, it’s hard to argue against a more effective and compact use of the Muppets. (The two 90s-era Muppet movies are wonderful, but not without their flaws.) Because they were still able to be a bit edgy, too, the Muppets haven’t been better than they were in this film.

Thrilling without being scary

Shows like It’s Tough to be a Bug thrive on scaring some of its audience members as much as thrilling them. (And you don’t have to be little to be a little freaked out of the massive spiders descending from the ceiling in that show.) Muppet*Vision 3D has some thrills and unexpected moments, but it’s never scary (or at least, it’s not trying to be).

The Swedish Chef

Most of the Muppets in Muppet*Vision 3D stay on the screen, but someone has to play the movie. And that dubious task falls to everyone’s favorite gibberish-spouting Swede, the Swedish Chef. As part of the whole-show experience, you get to see him screw things up near the end (because of course he does), in a nice nod to the original Muppet movie.

A salute to all nations, but mostly America

Sam the Eagle is a true American patriot, but there’s always someone or something to puncture his self-important bubble. When he prepares to introduce his big finale, a lengthy “salute to all nations, but mostly America”, he’s told by Kermit that his massive number has to squeeze into 90 seconds. Sam’s at his best when he blusters in confusion, so that punchline hits very hard.

Bean Bunny

After appearing in an HBO special in the mid-1980s, Bean Bunny had a miniature surge of popularity, appearing in 90s-era Muppet movies as well as being an emotional hook of Muppet*Vision 3D. All he wants is to help (even during the pre-show), but he keeps getting stopped and nearly runs away before getting the chance to set off some fireworks. As one of the show’s aspects that travels from the pre-show to the big screen to the theater itself, the use of Bean is very clever from beginning to end.

The Bunsen Labs vacuum cleaner

One of the many in-show tricks that takes place outside of the big screen comes when Dr. Honeydew and Beaker try to grab their out-of-control 3D creation Waldo, which they can only do with a massive vacuum cleaner. The good news? It works. The bad news? You know it works because the vacuum (or, a lot of in-building fans shooting out air) sucks up a lot more than Waldo.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

As a throwback to the days on The Muppet Show when Muppety crooners would sometimes struggle to get through a song because of outrageous complications, Miss Piggy sings “Dream A Little Dream of Me” as part of the Muppet*Vision 3D experience, and is waylaid by Bean Bunny and his bubbles. It makes for a delightful interactive aspect. Plus, Miss Piggy’s at her funniest when she’s maddest, making this a particularly good gag.

Statler and Waldorf

If the Muppets are performing in any venue, then Statler and Waldorf have to be nearby. And fortunately, because Muppet*Vision 3D is a theatrical presentation, they’ve got their box seats looking down on the Muppets to mock them mercilessly. Watch this show enough times and you can see how the Audio-Animatronics for these hecklers are lively throughout the show, even when they’re not talking. It’s a brilliant masterstroke.

A real, live Muppet

It’s one thing to see beloved Muppet characters occupying their special box seats, because part of you knows that they’re (obviously) Audio-Animatronics. It’s another to see an actual Muppet bound out into the audience, as the big and big-hearted Sweetums does when searching for Bean Bunny. Though the audio for Sweetums was obviously pre-recorded, it’s always a little mind-blowing to see a real Muppet in the furry flesh.

Mickey Mouse

Even in a 3D movie, the Muppets couldn’t resist a brief, sly cameo from Mickey Mouse. …Well, kind of. When the film is at its conclusion, the pesky 3D creation Waldo appears again in the guise of Mickey (replete with the voice of Wayne Allwine, then the voice of Mickey) before turning back into himself and being sucked up by the Muppet Labs vacuum cleaner. They couldn’t resist one more good gag.

An explosive ending

A chaotic show like Muppet*Vision 3D can only end one way, right? With a bang, of course, and that’s how this one goes out after Waldo tampers with the America-themed finale that begins with fireworks and ends with an explosion blowing up the whole theater and placing Kermit outside the show building. They’re destructive to the end.

PizzeRizzo

This may be the most controversial item on the list, but the people who love PizzeRizzo really do adore it. (I say this from experience – when I’m not writing lists like this, I do goofy Disney-themed brackets on Twitter, and of all restaurants to win the bracket on Walt Disney World theme-park restaurants…well, I wouldn’t have guessed PizzeRizzo.) The charm of this restaurant isn’t in the food, but the Italian theming, the goofy jokes, and the way that the entire plaza surrounding the show building for Muppet*Vision 3D feels as immersive as the film itself does.

The Piggy fountain

You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, just look at this beautiful sight.

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