new voice of kermit the frog

Fading Away

For any fan of the Muppets, this treatment may feel like insult to injury. The idea of the Walt Disney Company owning the Muppets once felt right. Who better to make sure that the legacy of one of the great all-ages group of characters would continue strong and unabated than the House of Mouse?

So why is it that Disney has essentially ignored the Muppets as much as possible, dispensing them at random? Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the Great Gonzo (among many others) are iconic, family-friendly faces, each able to represent a blend of hope and comic anarchy. But now, we get 30-second bits where they deliver a couple brief one-liners, and that’s that. It’s easy to get a bit ruffled about who’s performing as these characters, with Frank Oz having retired and Henson having passed. The current iterations of Fozzie or Miss Piggy may sound a bit off if you grew up with the originals. But Steve Whitmire performed Kermit the Frog for more than two decades; some kids who only know the newer Muppets may only know him as Kermit. However, what is more troubling is that one of the biggest companies in the world is letting such a great group of personalities die on the vine.

What could Disney do with the Muppets? The two recent movies, despite being flawed, were both steps in the right direction, especially the second film. Nothing against the 2011 Muppets; it has some great songs, and nostalgia for The Muppet Show is all well and good. But Muppets Most Wanted was, unlike its predecessor, about the Muppets, just like the earlier films and the original TV show. The 2011 film was much more about the human characters and their love of The Muppet Show, more than it was about the Muppets themselves.

That TV show is the core of what Disney should be doing with the Muppets. There is no better way to re-introduce people, especially kids, to the Muppets than by highlighting the five-season variety show that turned the characters into household names. Currently, you can purchase the first three seasons of The Muppet Show on Amazon (and you should, because the show is wonderful), but not the final two. Presumably, that’s because of clearance rights for some of the songs featured in those seasons. Disney should take the gamble and get those seasons available for audiences; it would be exceedingly wise of them to do so for streaming purposes in time for their new service. It’s not just because all five seasons of The Muppet Show ought to be available to watch in some form. This is how you revive the Muppets for kids, showcasing them in their most entertaining form.

Jim Henson and Kermit

Saving the Muppets

I was born in 1984, so I grew up with The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, but also with The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock on VHS, and The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan on the same format. While many of these are available in some form for children of the 2010s, there are so many newer entertainment options available that the Muppets likely just look like some old, forgotten franchise. In the 2011 film, when we first see Kermit the Frog, he’s forlorn and depressed, watching his legacy fade away and feeling helpless to turn the tide. This is now something of a reality, in part because the Muppets’ corporate stewards are more focused on intellectual properties like Marvel and Star Wars. (It’s genuinely shocking that Disney’s announced plans for the Star Wars land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios doesn’t include removing Muppet Vision 3-D.) The Muppets are not as big as superheroes or space operas, but there’s no reason to presume that they should just collect dust on a metaphorical shelf.

I have mild hope (at best) for the announced Muppet Babies reboot coming to Disney Junior in 2018. Again, the best way to get the Muppets back into the cultural consciousness (in a positive way, not in a gossipy way as with the Whitmire firing) is to get kids onboard, and Muppet Babies might be the right foot forward. (Very strong emphasis on “might.”) When Disney finally unveils hard details about its streaming service, the Muppets should be a big part of it, from the previous films to The Muppet Show itself. There’s little doubt that Disney’s streaming service will be heavily targeted at families, and few things are more family-friendly than the Muppets. Frankly, it would be nice if Disney revived The Muppet Show itself — not a post-modern, faux-documentary show like the 2015 ABC show, but the actual Muppet Show. Maybe that could be one of the rumored new shows for the streaming service.

It’s easy to be troubled about how Steve Whitmire was let go from the Jim Henson Company, having been the performer for the biggest Muppet there is for over 25 years. And it’s easy to pause a bit when hearing Matt Vogel take over as Kermit the Frog. (A strange bit of irony there: in Muppets Most Wanted, Vogel played Constantine, the villainous criminal frog who forcibly switches places with Kermit and fools all of the good-hearted amphibian’s friends. Now…well, now he’s Kermit for real.) But when I saw the initial headlines and watched the video, I couldn’t get quite as bothered at the new Kermit’s sound as I am at the sorry state of the Muppets. These are some of the most wonderful characters in modern popular culture, and they deserve so, so much better. If we are lucky, the next couple of years might offer a bright spot or two.

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Correction: A previous version of this article said that Disney bought the Jim Henson Company. They only bought the Muppets characters.

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