The Muppets meet The Mouse

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an ongoing love/hate opinion of The Walt Disney Company. This is primarily because it no longer bears much resemblance to Walt Disney's company. While I realize that any business has to change and evolve in order to survive (or, at least, to avoid stagnation) I thoroughly dislike what Disney has evolved into - a gigantic marketing machine.

Undoubtedly, Disney is a for-profit venture and needs to keep an eye on things like debt-to-equity ratios and EPS, but it has lost sight of all else. With the occasional exception, the movies it produces are no where near as good as they used to be. And they are not made to entertain families or even just children but to sell ancillary licensed products like actions figures, computer games, clothing, lunchboxes, breakfast cereals and just about anything else you can name. This is, in my view, a Bad Thing.

So I was not pleased when the announcement was made that they were buying all rights to the Muppets from The Jim Henson Company. In the deal, Disney will purchase all rights to the well-known Muppets (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and such) and to Bear in the Big Blue House, which has been a Disney Channel commodity for most of it's life. The characters from Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal and the rest of Henson's Creature Shop will remain under their control. The familiar Sesame Street Muppets (Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, etc.) were sold to the Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children's Television Workshop) in 2000 by EM.TV, the German company which purchased JHC earlier that year - the Henson family bought back majority control from them in 2003.

There's no denying that Jim Henson was a creative genius and had the vision and drive to continually take his creations to new heights. Few (if any) others could've taken an old, green coat and some ping pong balls, given them a distinct personality and turned them into a household name - even to the point of delivering the commencement address for a New York college. No one, not even his kids, can maintain the Muppet franchise as well. But I would think they would remain closer to his vision than will Michael Eisner.

While Kermit and the gang have certainly been in a holding pattern (at best) of late and I would like to see them with more exposure, I hate that it has to be at the hand of Disney, who have a history of over-playing any given hand to the point where you're sick of seeing [InsertNameOfMovie] everywhere you turn and just want it to go the hell away. Then there are the crappy, low budget, direct-to-video releases that have no business ever being made and serve only to make a few (million) quick bucks. Cinderella II, anyone? Jungle Book 2? (Come on, guys! Kipling and the Grimm Brothers sure didn't write this stuff. What on earth makes you think you can do better than, or even as well as, they did?) The thought of this happening to my beloved Muppets is painful beyond words.

In any case, they will never be what they once were. The humor will change - most likely there will be no moments when, as a kid you don't get it but, as an adult watching it over again, it hits you like a big joke brick. The attitude - somewhat campy and ever so slightly snarky, but never taking it over the edge, all the while taking themselves very seriously - probably won't survive. Without those two essential elements, I don't see how the new owners can do much more than shovel out more of the same garbage but with different characters.

Who knows? Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. I hope so. With the current turmoil in the upper Disney ranks, Eisner and his ilk may not be in charge much longer. I'd certainly like to see control return to Roy and the Disney family. Maybe this will spell a whole new era of popularity for the Muppets. But I'll believe that when I see it.

For some pretty good editorial pieces on this subject which go into the issues far better than I ever could, check these out:

A New Era: Disney's Muppets
Disney's Muppets: Coming to Terms with Life after Jim
Disney's Muppets: Trapped in the Magic Kingdom

Re: The Muppets meet The Mouse

Wanted to make sure you saw this: <a href="" title=""></a> Not all of what you wished for, but at least some of it.