The Muppets are an ensemble cast of puppet
characters known for their self-aware, burlesque, and
meta-referential style of variety-sketch comedy. Created by Jim
Henson and his wife Jane Henson in 1955, they are the namesake for
the Disney media franchise that encompasses feature films, television
series, music recordings, theme park attractions, print publications,
merchandising, and other media works associated with the characters.
Muppets debuted on the television program Sam and Friends, which
aired from 1955 to 1961. After appearing on skits in several late
night talk shows and advertising commercials during the 1960s, the
Muppets began appearing on Sesame Street in 1969.
Henson and the Muppets attained celebrity
status and international recognition through their breakout roles in
The Muppet Show (19761981), a primetime television series that
garnered four Primetime Emmy Award wins and twenty-one nominations
during its five-year run.
In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the
Muppets diversified into theatrical feature films, including The
Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and The Muppets
Take Manhattan (1984). The Walt Disney Company began involvement with
the Muppets in the late 1980s, seeking to acquire the characters from
the Jim Henson Company. The Muppets continued their presence in
television and film in the 1990s with The Jim Henson Hour (1989),
Muppets Tonight (199698), a series continuation of The Muppet
Show, and three films, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet
Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets from Space (1999).
acquired the rights to the Muppets franchise in 2004, allowing the
characters to gain broader public exposure than in previous years.
Under Disney's control, the Muppets enjoyed revitalized success,
starring in two films, The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted
(2014), as well as a short-lived primetime television series on ABC.
Throughout their six decades of existence,
the Muppets have been regarded as a staple of the entertainment
industry and popular culture in the United States, receiving
recognition from various cultural institutions and organizations,
such as the American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts
and Sciences, Library of Congress, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Muppets were created by puppeteer Jim
Henson in the 1950s, beginning with Kermit the Frog, who would become
Henson's signature character. Originally conceived as characters
aimed at an adult audience, Henson stated that the term
"Muppet" had been created as an amalgamation of the words
"marionette" and "puppet", however,
Henson was also known to have stated that it was just something he
liked the sound of, and he made up the "marionette/puppet"
story while talking to a journalist because it sounded plausible.
Muppets are distinguished
from ventriloquist "dummies", which are typically animated
only in the head and face, in that their arms or other features are
also mobile and expressive. Muppets are typically made of softer
materials. They are also presented as being independent of the
puppeteer, who is usually not visible, hidden behind a set or outside
of the camera frame.
Maury "Jim" Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi on
September 24th, 1936. Henson was the younger of two children of Paul
Ransom Henson (19041994), an agronomist for the U.S. Department
of Agriculture, and his wife, Betty Marcella (née Brown;
19041972). He was raised as a Christian Scientist and spent his
early childhood in Leland, Mississippi, before moving with his family
to University Park, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., in the late
1940s. He later remembered the arrival of the family's first
television as "the biggest event of his adolescence,"
having been heavily influenced by radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen
and the early television puppets of Burr Tillstrom (on Kukla, Fran
and Ollie) and Bil and Cora Baird.
Henson remained a Christian Scientist at
least into his twenties when he would teach Sunday School, but
fifteen years before he died, Henson wrote to a Christian Science
church to inform them he was no longer a practicing member. Henson
began developing puppets while attending Northwestern High School,
and In 1954, he began working for WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV), creating
puppets for a Saturday morning children's show called The Junior
Morning Show. After graduating from high school, Henson enrolled at
the University of Maryland, College Park, as a studio arts major,
thinking he might become a commercial artist. A puppetry class
offered in the applied arts department introduced him to the craft
and textiles courses in the College of Home economics, and he
graduated in 1960 with a BS in home economics. As a freshman, he had
been asked to create Sam and Friends, a five-minute puppet show for
WRC-TV. The characters on Sam and Friends were forerunners of
Muppets, and the show included a prototype of Henson's most famous
character: Kermit the Frog. Henson would remain at WRC for seven
years, from 1954 to 1961.
In the show, he began experimenting with
techniques that would change the way puppetry had been used on
television, including using the frame defined by the camera shot to
allow the puppet performer to work from off-camera. Believing
television puppets needed to have "life and sensitivity,"
Henson began making characters from flexible, fabric-covered foam
rubber, allowing them to express a wider array of emotions at a time
when many puppets were made of carved wood. A marionette's arms are
manipulated by strings, but Henson used rods to move his Muppets'
arms, allowing greater control of expression. Additionally, Henson
wanted the Muppet characters to "speak" more creatively
than was possible for previous puppets, which had seemed to have
random mouth movements, so he used precise mouth movements to match
When Henson began work on Sam and Friends,
he asked fellow University of Maryland sophomore Jane Nebel to assist
him. The show was a financial success, but after graduating from
college, Henson began to have doubts about going into a career
performing with puppets. He spent several months in Europe, where he
was inspired by European puppet performers, who looked on their work
as an art form. Upon Henson's return to the United States, he and
Jane began dating. They were married in 1959 and had five children,
Lisa (b. 1960), Cheryl (b. 1961), Brian (b. 1963), John (b. 1965, d.
2014), and Heather (b. 1970).
Despite the success of Sam and Friends,
Henson spent much of the next two decades working in commercials,
talk shows, and children's projects before being able to realize his
dream of the Muppets as "entertainment for everybody". The
popularity of his work on Sam and Friends in the late 1950s led to a
series of guest appearances on network talk and variety shows. Henson
himself appeared as a guest on many shows, including The Steve Allen
Show, The Jack Paar Program and The Ed Sullivan Show (although on his
appearance on the September 11th, 1966, episode of the show, released
to DVD on 2011 as part of a collection of episodes featuring the
Rolling Stones, Sullivan mis-introduced Henson as "Jim Newsom
and his Puppets"). This first national television broadcast
greatly increased exposure, which led to hundreds of commercial
appearances by Henson characters throughout the sixties.
Among the most popular of Henson's
commercials was a series for the local Wilkins Coffee company in
Washington, D.C., in which his Muppets were able to get away with a
greater level of slapstick violence than might have been acceptable
with human actors and would later find its way into many acts on The
Muppet Show. In the first Wilkins ad, a Muppet named Wilkins is
poised behind a cannon seen in profile. Another Muppet named Wontkins
is in front of its barrel. Wilkins asks, "What do you think of
Wilkins Coffee?" and Wontkins responds gruffly, "Never
tasted it!" Wilkins fires the cannon and blows Wontkins away,
then turns the cannon directly toward the viewer and ends the ad
with, "Now, what do you think of Wilkins?" Henson later
explained, "Till then, advertising agencies believed that the
hard sell was the only way to get their message over on television.
We took a very different approach. We tried to sell things by making
people laugh." The first seven-second commercial for Wilkins was
an immediate hit and was syndicated and re-shot by Henson for local
coffee companies across the United States; he ultimately produced
more than 300 coffee ads. The same setup was used to pitch Kraml Milk
in the Chicago area, Red Diamond coffee, several bread products, and
1963, Henson and his wife moved to New York City, where the newly
formed Muppets, Inc., would reside for some time. Jane quit
performing to raise their children. Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl in
1961 and puppet performer Frank Oz in 1963 to replace her. Henson
later credited both with developing much of the humor and character
of his Muppets. Henson and Oz developed a close friendship and a
performing partnership that lasted 27 years; their teamwork is
particularly evident in their portrayals of the characters of Bert
and Ernie, Kermit and Miss Piggy, and Kermit and Fozzie Bear.
Henson's 1960s talk show appearances
culminated when he devised Rowlf, a piano-playing anthropomorphic
dog. Rowlf became the first Muppet to make regular appearances on a
network show, The Jimmy Dean Show. Henson was so grateful for this
break that he offered Jimmy Dean a 40% interest in his production
company, but Dean declined, stating that Henson deserved all the
rewards for his own work, a decision of conscience Dean never
regretted. From 1963 to 1966, Henson began exploring film-making and
produced a series of experimental films. His nine-minute experimental
film, Time Piece, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live
Action Short Film in 1966. The year 1969 saw the production of The
Cube, another Henson-produced experimental movie.
Also around this time, the first drafts of
a live-action experimental movie script were written with Jerry Juhl,
which would eventually become Henson's last unproduced full-length
screenplay, Tale of Sand. The script remained in the Henson Company
archives until the screenplay was adapted in the 2012 graphic novel
Jim Henson's Tale of Sand.
At the start of the Muppets' formation,
Jim and Jane Henson were the group's only performers. In 1961, Jane
retired to focus on raising their children. Seeking additional
performers, Jim came into contact with Frank Oz that same year.
Although interested, Oz declined participation due to his youth and
commitment to high school, and instead suggested Jerry Juhl, a fellow
puppeteer who worked alongside Oz at the Vagabond Puppet Theater in
Oakland, California. Upon graduating, Oz subsequently joined in
August 1963. When The Muppet Show began, the main cast of performers
grew to include Henson, Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt,
and later Steve Whitmire, while Juhl became head writer for the
series. From The Muppet Show onwards, Kevin Clash, Kathryn Mullen,
Louise Gold, Karen Prell, Caroll Spinney, and Brian Henson performed
several minor characters and often assisted the main performers with
puppeteering. Nearly all of the aforementioned puppeteers
cross-performed characters across a variety of media, including The
Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and other Henson-related projects.
Pictured top left,
clockwise from top left: Richard Hunt, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson,
Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Dave Goelz. Pictured top right, Richard Hunt
provides the "right-hand" for Jim Henson as Ernie while
Frank Oz plays Bert.
Jim Henson, Hunt, and Nelson continued
performing until their deaths in 1990, 1992, and 2012, respectively.
Whitmire and Bill Barretta, who became one of the group's main
performers in the 1990s, adopted Henson's characters. Hunt's
characters remained without a stable performer throughout the 1990s
and 2000s, until David Rudman and Whitmire began performing such
characters in the late 2000s. Oz continued performing until his
retirement from puppeteering in 2000; Eric Jacobson took over his
characters two years after. At Nelson's behest, Matt Vogel gradually
assumed performing duties for his characters beginning in 2008.
Whitmire was dismissed from the cast in 2016, with Vogel cast as the
role of Kermit in 2017, and the majority of Whitmire's characters
assumed by the remainder of the cast. The Muppets are currently
performed by a cast of six principal puppeteers: Jacobson, Goelz,
Barretta, Rudman, Vogel, and Peter Linz.
The majority of the Muppets are designed
as a combination of rod puppets and hand puppets. A common facial
design for a Muppet is a character with a very large mouth and big
protruding eyes. The puppets are often molded or carved out of
various types of foam, and then covered with fleece, fur, or other
felt-like material. Muppets may represent humans, anthropomorphic
animals, realistic animals, robots, anthropomorphic objects,
extraterrestrial creatures, mythical beings or other unidentified,
newly imagined creatures, monsters, or abstract characters.
Muppets are distinguished from
ventriloquist "dummies"/"puppets", which are
typically animated only in the head and face, in that their arms or
other features are also mobile and expressive. Muppets are typically
made of softer materials. They are also presented as being
independent of the puppeteer, who is usually not visible, hidden
behind a set or outside of the camera frame. Using the camera frame
as the "stage" was an innovation of the Muppets. Previously
on television, there would typically be a stage hiding the
performers, as if in a live presentation. Sometimes they are seen
full-bodied. This is done by using invisible strings to move the
characters' bodies and mouths, and then adding the voices later.
Since Disney's acquisition of the Muppets,
newer models of the characters are produced and maintained by Puppet Heap.
The puppeteer, often dubbed as the
"Muppet performer", holds the Muppet above his head or in
front of his body, with one hand operating the head and mouth and the
other manipulating the hands and arms, either with two separate
control rods or by "wearing" the hands like gloves. One
consequence of this design is that most Muppets are left-handed as
the puppeteer uses his right hand to operate the head while operating
the arm rod with his left hand. There are many other common designs
and means of operation. In advanced Muppets, several puppeteers may
control a single character; the performer who controls the mouth
usually provides the voice for the character. As technology has
evolved, the Jim Henson team and other puppeteers have developed an
enormous variety of means to operate Muppets for film and television,
including the use of suspended rigs, internal motors, remote radio
control, and computer enhanced and superimposed images. Creative use
of a mix of technologies has allowed for scenes in which Muppets
appear to be riding a bicycle, rowing a boat, and even dancing
on-stage with no puppeteer in sight.
Muppets tend to develop, as writer Michael
Davis put it, "organically", meaning that the puppeteers
take time, often up to a year, slowly developing their characters and
voices. Muppets are also, as Davis said, "test-driven, passed
around from one Henson troupe member to another in the hope of
finding the perfect human-Muppet match". When interacting with
Muppets, children tended to act as though the Muppets were living
creatures, even when they could see the puppeteers.
CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO
GET TO SESAME STREET?
In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd
Morrisett began developing an educational television program targeted
towards children and approached Henson to design several Muppet
characters for the program. Produced by the Children's Television
Workshop, the show debuted as Sesame Street in 1969. Henson and his
creative team performed and created several characters for the show
in the years that followed; Henson waived his performance fee in
exchange for retaining ownership rights to the Muppet characters
created for the program. Sesame Street received critical acclaim, and
the Muppets' involvement in the series was touted to be a vital
component of the show's blossoming popularity, providing an
"effective and pleasurable viewing" method of presentation
for the series' educational curriculum. The series premiered on
November 10th, 1969, to positive reviews, some controversy, and high
viewership; it has aired on the U.S.'s national public television
provider (PBS) since its debut, with its first run moving to premium
channel HBO on January 16th, 2016.
Shortly after the CTW was created in 1968,
Joan Ganz Cooney was named its first executive director. She was one
of the first female executives in American television and her
appointment was called "one of the most important television
developments of the decade". She assembled a team of producers,
all of whom had previously worked on Captain Kangaroo. Jon Stone was
responsible for writing, casting, and format; Dave Connell took over
animation; and Sam Gibbon served as the show's chief liaison between
the production staff and the research team.
Henson and the Muppets' involvement in Sesame Street began when he
and Cooney met at one of the curriculum planning seminars in Boston.
Author Christopher Finch reported that Stone, who had worked with
Henson previously, felt that if they could not bring him on board,
they should "make do without puppets". Henson was initially
reluctant, but he agreed to join Sesame Street and it brought him
Henson was able to take arcane academic
goals and translate them to effective and pleasurable viewing. In
early research, the Muppet segments of the show scored high, and more
Muppets were added during the first few seasons. The Muppets were
effective teaching tools because children easily recognized them,
they were stereotypical and predictable, and they appealed to adults
and older siblings as well.
Sesame Street had given Jim
Henson's creations invaluable exposure; however, Henson began to
perceive that he was being pigeonholed as a children's entertainer.
He sought to create a program that could be enjoyed by young and old alike.
In the early 1970s, the Muppets continued
their presence in television, namely appearing in The Land of Gorch
segments during the first season of Saturday Night Live. As his
involvement with Sesame Street continued, Henson mused about the
possibility of creating a network television series featuring the
Muppets. However, unlike Sesame Street, which was geared towards a
younger demographic and rooted in education, Henson pursued
developing a series that would be focused purely on comedy and aimed
more towards adults than children. Two pilot specials, The Muppets
Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, aired on ABC in
1974 and 1975, respectively. After ABC passed on the pilots and no
other major American network expressed interest in backing the
project, Lew Grade approached Henson and agreed to produce the series
for the British company Associated Television.
Debuting in 1976, The Muppet Show
introduced characters such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and
Animal, as well as showcasing regulars Kermit the Frog and Rowlf. Kermit
was also one of the main Muppet characters of Sesame Street where he
was a happy, perky and somewhat avuncular character, here he is
trying to keep control of the varied, outrageous, kinetic Muppet
characters (and his temper), as well as keep the human guest stars
happy and secure. The show was well-known for outrageous, highly
physical, sometimes absurdist comedy, and particularly for using its
puppet characters to create uniquely humorous parodies. The show
depicted a vaudeville or music hall style song-and-dance variety
show, as well as the backstage antics of the Muppet cast and it's
human guest stars. After the show became popular with audiences, many
major celebrities were eager to perform on the show and the diverse
roster of guests included Twiggy, Sandy Duncan, Julie Andrews, Steve
Martin, characters from Star Wars, Mummenschanz, Ethel Merman, Paul
Simon, John Denver and Alice Cooper. The Muppet Show became the
cornerstone of Jim Henson's enormously popular ongoing productions and
went on to receive twenty-one Primetime Emmy Award nominations during
its run, winning four awards, including Outstanding Variety Series in 1978.
format was later be revived as Muppets Tonight (below) in 1996. The
premise of Muppets Tonight was that Clifford (a Muppet who first
appeared on shortlived The Jim Henson Hour and was voiced by Kevin
Clash) was the host of a variety/talk show on KMUP. The show stuck
closely to the Muppet Show format of various skits (mostly featuring
the show's human guest star) interspersed with some sort of crisis
occurring backstage. Muppets Tonight ran from 1996 to 1998. There
were 22 episodes produced in two batches. 13 episodes were ordered by
ABC, which only ran 10 of them in the 1995-96 TV season. The program
was then purchased by the Disney Channel, which ordered a further
nine episodes and aired these along with the three episodes ABC did
not air, in the 1997-98 season. One of the nine newly-produced
episodes was a clip show compilation culled from the earlier episodes.
The success of original The Muppet Show
allowed Henson Associates to diversify into theatrical feature films
based on the Muppets and went on to produce The Muppet Movie (the
first film to feature puppets interacting with humans in real-world locations),
The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, which
followed in 1979, 1981 and 1984, respectively. Altogether, the three
films received four Academy Award nominations. By 1983, Henson had
introduced another television series, Fraggle Rock, which ran on HBO
in the United States until 1987.
The Muppet Movie is
a movie-in-a-movie, as we see Kermit the Frog and the rest of the
Muppets gathering for the first screening of The Muppet Movie. Kermit
notes that the movie is a somewhat fictionalized account of the true
story of how the Muppets first got together. A song from the
film, "The Rainbow Connection", sung by Henson as Kermit,
hit number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for an
Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
is the second of a series of live-action musical feature films,
starring the Muppets. The movie was released shortly after the final
season of The Muppet Show, so some fans consider it the movie finale
of the original show. Henson had decided to end the
still-popular Muppet Show to concentrate on making films but from
time to time, the Muppet characters continued to appear in
made-for-TV-movies and television specials.
The Muppets Take Manhattan
(1984) is the third of a series of live-action musical feature films
starring Jim Henson's Muppets. It was the first film directed by
Frank Oz, who also performs Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Animal. The
film introduced the Muppet Babies (toddler versions of the Muppet
characters in a flashback/dream sequence). The Muppet Babies later
received their own Saturday morning animated television series, which
aired from 1984 until 1991.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
was the fourth feature film to star The Muppets, and the first
produced after the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. Released in
1992, it is one of many film adaptations of Charles Dickens' A
Christmas Carol. This is the first of the Muppets movies in which the
focus of the story revolves around characters played by human beings.
Specifically, Michael Caine played Ebenezer Scrooge, Steven
Mackintosh portrayed Scrooge's nephew Fred, and Meredith Braun played
Scrooge's fiancée Belle. The rest of the cast was fleshed out
with Muppet performers, including Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit,
Miss Piggy as Cratchit's wife, Robin as Tiny Tim, and Fozzie Bear as
Fozziwig ("Fezziwig" in the original story). The film was
directed by Jim Henson's son, Brian Henson. This film marked the
younger Henson's directorial debut. Ironically, in spite of the
majority of the cast being puppets, this film is in one sense one of
the truest adaptations of the original story. This is because the
film is interspersed with scenes of a narrator (Gonzo playing
Dickens), who, along with the characters, recites virtually all of
Dickens's original lines.
Muppet Treasure Island
was the fifth feature film to star The Muppets, and the second
produced after the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. Released in
1996 and directed by Jim Henson's son Brian Henson, it was one of
many film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. As
in the earlier Muppet Christmas Carol, the key roles were played by
human guest stars - in this case, Tim Curry as Long John Silver and
Kevin Bishop as the putative protagonist Jim Hawkins - while the
Muppets filled in supporting roles, including Kermit as Captain
Smollett, Fozzie as Squire Trelawney, and Miss Piggy (who Tim Curry
states is the prettiest co-star he's ever had) as Benjimina Gunn.
Following their success as the narrators of The Muppet Christmas
Carol, Gonzo and Rizzo appear in specially-created roles as Jim
Hawkins' best friends, and steal the show.
In addition to his own puppetry projects,
Henson aided others in their work. In 1979, he was asked by the
producers of the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back to aid
make-up artist Stuart Freeborn in the creation and articulation of
enigmatic Jedi Master Yoda. Henson suggested to Star Wars creator
George Lucas, himself a Muppets fan, that he use Frank Oz as the
puppeteer and voice of Yoda. Oz voiced Yoda in The Empire Strikes
Back and each of the four subsequent Star Wars films. The
naturalistic, lifelike Yoda became one of the most popular characters
of the Star Wars franchise. Lucas even lobbied unsuccessfully to have
Oz nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1982, Henson founded the Jim Henson
Foundation to promote and develop the art of puppetry in the United
States. Around that time, he began creating darker and more realistic
fantasy films that did not feature the Muppets and displayed "a
growing, brooding interest in mortality." With 1982's The Dark
Crystal, which he co-directed with Frank Oz and co-wrote, Henson said
he was "trying to go toward a sense of realism, toward a reality
of creatures that are actually alive [where] it's not so much a
symbol of the thing, but you're trying to [present] the thing
itself." To provide a visual style distinct from the Muppets,
the puppets in The Dark Crystal were based on conceptual artwork by
The Dark Crystal was a financial and
critical success and, a year later, the Muppet-starring The Muppets
Take Manhattan (directed by Frank Oz) did fair box-office business,
grossing $25.5 million domestically and ranking as one of the top 40
films of 1984. However, 1986's Labyrinth, a Crystal-like fantasy that
Henson directed by himself, was considered (in part due to its cost)
a commercial disappointment. Despite some positive reviews (The New
York Times called it "a fabulous film"), the commercial
failure of Labyrinth demoralized Henson to the point that son Brian
Henson remembered the time of its release as being "the closest
I've seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite
depressed." The film would later became a cult classic.
and his wife separated the same year, although they remained close
for the rest of his life. Jane later said that Jim was so involved
with his work that he had very little time to spend with her or their
children. All five of his children began working with Muppets at an
early age, partly because, as Cheryl Henson remembered, "one of
the best ways of being around him was to work with him."
Henson continued to explore darker, mature
themes with the folk tale and mythology-oriented show The Storyteller
(1988), which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program. The
next year, Henson returned to television with The Jim Henson Hour,
which mixed lighthearted Muppet fare with riskier material. The show
was critically well received and won Henson another Emmy for
Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program, but was canceled
after 13 episodes due to low ratings. Henson blamed its failure on
NBC's constant rescheduling.
MUPPETS IN PRINT
Since the late 1970s, numerous
Muppet-related comic books have been released over the years. The
first comic strips based on the Muppets appeared on September 21st,
1981, in over 500 daily newspapers, just months after The Muppet Show
ended its five-year run. The Muppets Comic Strip was printed daily
from 1981 to 1986. By the end of its initial run, the comic strip was
seen in over 660 newspapers worldwide. Special strips were also
created in color, exclusively for issues of Muppet Magazine.
The only film in the franchise to see a
comic book adaptation was The Muppets Take Manhattan. The comic book
series was adapted by Marvel Comics in 1984, as the 68-page story in
Marvel Super Special No. 32, August. The adaptation was later re-printed
into three limited series issues, released under Marvel's Star
Comics imprint (November 1984 January 1985).
Muppet Magazine was published from 1983 to
1989. The magazine took on the format of being by the Muppets more
than about them and had such features as celebrity interviews and
In the wake of the success of the Muppet
Babies television show, Star Comics began releasing the Muppet Babies
comic book title on a bi-monthly basis. These were original stories,
not adaptations of the show's episodes.
In the final Disney Adventures issue, with
a cover date of November 2007, a one-page story single strip focusing
on Fozzie Bear, Smedley, Statler, and Waldorf (with a cameo by
Scooter) was released. Roger Langridge wrote and drew the comics
intending it to be more long running.
In 2009, Boom! Studios began publishing
The Muppet Show, a mini-series based on the eponymous television show
and written and drawn by Roger Langridge. An ongoing series titled
The Muppet Show: The Comic Book followed and ran for eleven issues.
Additionally, Boom! Studios also published Muppet fairy-tale comic
adaptations similar to The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure
Island. In 2012, Marvel Comics took over the publishing duties for
In the late 1980s, Henson worked with
illustrator / designer William Stout on a feature film starring
animatronic dinosaurs with the working title of The Natural History
Project. In 1991, news stories written around the premiere of The Jim
Henson Company-produced Dinosaurs sitcom highlighted the show's
connection to Henson. "Jim Henson dreamed up the show's basic
concept about three years ago," said a New York Times article in
'He wanted it to be a sitcom with a pretty
standard structure, with the biggest differences being that it's a
family of dinosaurs and their society has this strange toxic life
style,' said [his son] Brian Henson. But until The Simpsons took off,
said Alex Rockwell, a vice president of the Henson organization,
'people thought it was a crazy idea.'
A New Yorker article said that Henson
continued to work on a dinosaur project (presumably the Dinosaurs
concept) until the "last months of his life." The family
sitcom Dinosaurs, set in 60,000,003 BC in Pangaea, featured the
Sinclair family: Earl Sinclair (the father), Fran Sinclair (the
mother and Earl's wife), their three children (son Robbie, daughter
Charlene, and Baby Sinclair) and Fran's mother, Ethyl. Earl's job is
to push over trees for the Wesayso Corporation with his friend and
coworker Roy Hess where they work under the supervision of their boss
Bradley P. Richfield. It debuted a year after Henson's death and ran
on ABC from April 26th, 1991 to July 20th, 1994.
the production of his 1990 projects, Henson traveled continuously.
By late Spring, Henson began to experience recurring flu-like
symptoms. On May 4th, 1990, Henson appeared with Kermit on The
Arsenio Hall Show, one of his last television appearances. At the
time, he mentioned to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore
throat, but felt that it would go away.
On May 12th, 1990, Henson traveled to
Ahoskie, North Carolina, with his daughter Cheryl, to visit his
father and stepmother. They both returned to New York on May 13th,
and Henson canceled a Muppet recording session scheduled for May 14th.
That night, Henson's wife Jane, from whom
he was separated, came to visit for the last time. Hours later, on
May 15th, Henson suffered a medical emergency; he was having trouble
breathing and began coughing up blood. He suggested to his wife that
he might be dying, but did not want to take time from his schedule to
visit a hospital. Jane later stated that while Henson's Christian
Science upbringing "affect[ed] his general thinking", it
did not have any influence on his postponement of medical treatment,
and still later told People magazine that his avoidance was likely
due to his desire not to be a bother to anyone. His stepmother and
others also denied rumors that Henson's Christian Science beliefs
might have contributed to his death, as Henson had ceased practicing
in his early 20s. Two hours later, Henson finally agreed to be taken
by taxi to New York Hospital in New York City. After arriving there
at 4:58 a.m. (EST), Henson stopped breathing and an X-ray revealed he
had abscesses in his lungs. Henson was placed on a ventilator, but
his condition deteriorated rapidly despite aggressive treatment with
multiple antibiotics. Following twenty hours in intensive care at New
York Hospital, Henson died on May 16th, 1990, at 1:21 a.m.; he was 53
years old. At the time of Henson's death, doctor David Gelmont first
announced that he died from Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterial
infection that causes bacterial pneumonia. However, on May 29th,
Gelmont later confirmed that Henson's cause of death was organ
failure resulting from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (caused by
Streptococcus pyogenes). S. pyogenes is the bacterial species that
causes strep throat, scarlet fever, and rheumatic fever. It can also
cause other infections.
News of Henson's death spread quickly and
fans from around the world responded with tributes and condolences.
Many of Henson's co-stars and directors from Sesame Street, the
Muppets and other works also shared their thoughts on Henson's death.
On May 21st, Henson's public memorial
service was conducted in New York City at the Cathedral of Saint John
the Divine. Another was conducted on July 2nd at St Paul's Cathedral
in London. In accordance with Henson's letters, no one in attendance
wore black, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band finished the service by
performing "When the Saints Go Marching In". Harry
Belafonte sang "Turn the World Around," a song he had
debuted on The Muppet Show, as each member of the congregation waved,
with a puppet performer's rod, an individual, brightly colored foam
butterfly. Later, Big Bird, performed by Caroll Spinney, walked out
onto the stage and sang Kermit the Frog's signature song, "Bein' Green".
In the final minutes of the
two-and-a-half-hour service, six of the core Muppet performers, Dave
Goelz, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, and
Richard Hunt, sang, in their characters' voices, a medley of Jim
Henson's favorite songs, eventually ending with a performance of
"Just One Person" that began with Richard Hunt singing
alone, as Scooter. Henson employee Chris Barry writes that during
each verse, "each Muppeteer joined in with their own Muppets
until the stage was filled with all the Muppet performers and their
beloved characters." The funeral was later described by Life as
"an epic and almost unbearably moving event." The image of
a growing number of performers singing "Just One Person"
was recreated for the 1990 television special The Muppets Celebrate
Jim Henson and inspired screenwriter Richard Curtis, who attended the
London service, to write the growing-orchestra wedding scene of his
2003 film Love Actually.
In the weeks after his death, he was
celebrated in a wave of tributes. He was posthumously inducted into
the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, and as a Disney Legend in 2011.
DISNEY AND THE MUPPETS
In 1984, Jim Henson considered purchasing
the Disney company, which at the time was run by Ron Miller and under
the threat of a hostile takeover by corporate raider Saul Steinberg.
The idea never went further than inquiries, but after Michael Eisner,
Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over management of Disney,
the idea of a Disney/Henson pairing was revived but didn't go
anywhere because any deal would not include the Sesame Street characters.
Henson again had a desire to sell the company to Disney in 1989, and
officially entered into a merger agreement reportedly valued at $150
million. The deal included Henson's programming
library and Muppet characters (excluding the Muppets created for
Sesame Street), as well as Jim Henson's personal creative services.
However, Henson died suddenly before the deal was completed,
resulting in the two companies terminating merger negotiations the
When Henson died suddenly, it was an
unexpected event that was widely lamented in the film and television
industries. All the character illustrators at Walt
Disney World were asked to create concept sketches to choose from for
the condolence card to be presented to the Henson family from Walt
Disney World. Each artist created several. Above right is one by Joe
Lanzisero and Tim Kirk.
Though the merger didn't
happen, throughout the 1990s The Jim Henson Company partnered with
Disney. The Walt Disney Company produced and released The Muppet
Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, the first two Muppet
movies made after Jim Henson died, and for a time in the early '90s,
controlled the video release rights to The Muppet Movie, The Great
Muppet Caper, episodes of Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies, and other
properties, released through their Buena Vista Home Entertainment
label (under a label titled Jim Henson Video). In addition, Walt
Disney Home Video released a number of Sesame Street videos in the
UK. Muppets Tonight was also produced for the Disney-owned ABC
network and Disney Channel. Disney also produced Bear in the Big Blue
House with The Jim Henson Company for Disney Channel and a
sixth film, Muppets from Space, released by Columbia Pictures in 1999.
Muppets from Space
(1999) was the sixth feature film to star The Muppets, and the first
since the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson to have an original Muppet-focused
plot. Gonzo has always been classified as a whatever, but after he
begins to have disturbing dreams of abandonment, he begins to realize
just how alone he is in the world. After an alien race appears to be
trying to send him a message through bowls of cereal, Gonzo realizes
that he may not be so alone after all and climbs to the rooftop to
start watching the sky. His dreams are realized when he's hit by a
bolt of lightning that serves as a conduit that allows him to
communicate with a pair of cosmic fish, revealing to him that he is,
in fact, an alien from outer space.
It's a Very Merry Muppet
Christmas Movie is an NBC television movie produced by Jim Henson
Television in 2002. The plot of the movie revolves around the old
Muppet Theatre going through financial hardship, and the entire
Muppet cast looking towards Kermit the Frog for guidance. Kermit
eventually feels he's not useful to anyone, and an angel is sent to
help him out. The movie then follows the formula of It's a Wonderful
Life, as Kermit is shown what would have happened to his friends if
he had not existed. In the opposite world, Joan Cusack's character
has changed the park near the Muppet Theatre into a shopping centre.
Gonzo is now homeless and Rizzo the Rat has been shoved onto an
episode of Fear Factor where a woman has to eat him alive. Dr. Teeth
and his band have become country dancers. The biggest change is the
Muppet Theatre, which has become a dreadful night club. Dr. Honeydew
became a rapper, Beaker became a bodyguard, and Fozzie is now a
pickpocketer. Miss Piggy is a widow who lives in an apartment with a
series of cats.
The Muppets' Wizard of Oz,
an original made-for-television movie, aired May 20, 2005 as a
special Friday night edition of ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney.
Adapted from L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Adam
F. Goldberg and The Simpsons writer Tom Martin, this latest retelling
of the classic story follows Dorothy (Ashanti) as she journeys
through an Oz populated by Muppets to find the Wizard and become a star.
After the consensus was
reached that The Muppets' Wizard of Oz failed to deliver critically,
the question hung in the air whether or not another Muppet film would
In 2000, Henson Productions was sold to
EM.TV & Merchandising AG for $680 million. Following the sale,
EM.TV was plagued with financial problems and the Henson family
purchased the company back in 2003, with the exception of the rights
to the Sesame Street characters, which had been sold by EM.TV to
Now, fourteen years after initial
negotiations began, Disney came courting again. They purchased the
Muppet intellectual properties from the Jim Henson Company for $75
million on February 17th, 2004. The acquisition consisted of the
rights and trademarks to the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House
characters, as well as to the Muppet film and television library.
Exceptions included the Sesame Street characters, as they were
previously sold to Sesame Workshop, the Fraggle Rock characters,
which were retained by Henson, and the distribution rights to The
Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppets from Space, and Kermit's Swamp Years,
which remained with Sony Pictures Entertainment. As part of the
acquisition, Disney formed The Muppets Holding Company (later renamed
The Muppets Studio), a wholly owned subsidiary responsible for
managing the characters and franchise. As a result, the term
"Muppet" became a legal trademark owned by Disney, although
Sesame Workshop continues to apply the term to their characters, and
use archival footage of Kermit, under an exclusive license from Disney.
The Jim Henson Company retains the rights
to a number of productions featuring the Disney-owned Muppet
characters, including Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Christmas
Toy, Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, Henson's Place, Billy
Bunny's Animal Songs, the original Dog City special, and Donna's Day.
While some of these specials have since been released uncut, most
current releases of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and The
Christmas Toy have removed the appearances by Kermit the Frog.
Joining Disney would mean The Muppets
could now appear at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, having first
made appearances at Walt Disney World in 1990. Their first featured
attraction, Here Comes the Muppets, was a live stage show that opened
shortly after Jim Henson's death and ran at Disney's Hollywood
Studios (known then as Disney-MGM Studios) for a year. Muppet*Vision
3D (above), a 4D film attraction that uses audio-animatronic Muppets
and 4D effects, then opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios on May
16th, 1991. The attraction is notable for being the final Muppets
project to be produced by Jim Henson. Muppet*Vision 3D had a
subsequent opening at Disney California Adventure, on February 8,
2001, and operated there until its closure in 2014.
In addition to their main presence at
Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Muppets also appear in Great Moments
in American History, a live show at the Magic Kingdom and the Muppet
Mobile Lab at Epcot. The latter attraction is a free-roving vehicle
with audio-animatronics of Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. As part of
Disney's Living Character Initiative, it premiered in 2007 at Epcot
and was later previewed at Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland.
began gradually reintroducing the franchise to the mainstream in
2008. As a method of regaining a wider audience, Disney began to
produce and air their own comedy shorts on YouTube. After the
"Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody" was posted on the Muppet
Studios' YouTube channel, it ultimately gained 50 million views and
took home two Webby Awards. Videos are posted on the site regularly.
That same year, the Muppets starred in a web series with Cat Cora
called The Muppets Kitchen With Cat Cora, where cooking
demonstrations are shown. A television special, A Muppets Christmas:
Letters to Santa, premiered on NBC on December 17th, 2008. It was
released on DVD on September 29th, 2009. In 2010, Disney used the
Muppets to promote their volunteerism program at the company's theme
parks. That same year, a Halloween special featuring the Muppets was
expected to air on ABC in October 2010 but was shelved. Meanwhile
Disney had been furthering development on a new big screen Muppet
film concidering adapting an unused screenplay written by Jerry Juhl.
In 2008, Jason Segel and
Nicholas Stoller pitched a concept for a Muppets film to Walt Disney
Studios Executive Vice President of Production Karen Falk, and they
were offered a deal to develop their script. The news became public
in March 2008 when Variety first reported that Disney had signed a
deal with Segel and Stoller, with Segel and Stoller writing the
script and Stoller directing. In June 2008, Jason Segel announced
that he had turned in the first draft of his script and was hopeful
that the film would live up to previous Muppets movies. Later in
2008, Stoller noted that he and Segel had written an "old school
Muppets movie, where the Muppets have to put on a show to save the
studio." In this same interview, Stoller also confirmed that
they would get as many cameos and guest stars as possible, and that
Jason Segel would play a ventriloquist.
Originally, the film was
titled The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time! Another former title of
the film was The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made!, after an unused
script written by the late Jerry Juhl back in 1985. Although early
reports indicated that Stoller would direct the film, in January 2010
it was announced that James Bobin would direct the movie. An early
leak of the script rumored that it would feature celebrity cameos by
Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, George
Clooney, Jack Black, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Brooks, Matt Damon,
Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Rachael Ray, Bob Saget, Lisa Lampanelli,
Jeff Ross, and Charles Grodin, Ricky Gervais, Zack Galifianakis,
Billy Crystal, Alan Arkin, and Dave Grohl. However, Gervais, Crystal
and several other cameos including Beth Broderick, Kathy Griffin, Ed
Helms, Sterling Knight, Mila Kunis, Ben Stiller, Eric Stonestreet,
Wanda Sykes Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Danny Trejo were completely
omitted from the film due to time constraints (Though Gervais can be
seen in the musical finale). Jim Parsons' cameo was kept as a secret
by producers despite rumors that leaked on the Internet regarding his
role in the film.
The final title for the
film was simply, The Muppets, released in 2011 it would be the first
Muppets theatrical release in 12 years and stars Jason Segel, Amy
Adams, Chris Cooper and Rashida Jones along with Kermit, Miss Piggy
and Fozzie Bear. In the film, Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan
(a muppet himself), his brother Gary (Segel), and Gary's girlfriend
Mary (Adams) help Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppets. They must
raise $10 million to save the Muppet Theater from Tex Richman
(Cooper), a businessman who plans to demolish the studio to drill for oil.
The Muppets was a box
office success and became one of the best-reviewed films of 2011. The
film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the
song "Man or Muppet", written by the film's music
supervisor Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords); the first Academy
Award presented to a Muppet film. The Muppets was also the
highest-grossing film of the franchise to date. In March of
the following year, the Muppets received a collective star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame and hosted a Just for Laughs comedy gala in Montreal.
The marketing campaign for
The Muppets provided fans with additional "Muppet skits"
that appeared in previews and online including a spoof romantic
comedy trailer for the movie that was attached to Pirates of the
Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and was later released online under the
faux name Green With Envy. Additional spoof trailers parodied The
Hangover Part II (called The Fuzzy Pack), Green Lantern (called Being
Green), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (called The Pig with the
Froggy Tattoo), Paranormal Activity (called Abnormal Activity), Happy
Feet Two (called Dancing on Happy Feet), Puss in Boots (called Fuss
in Boots) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (called
In March 2012, after the critical and
commercial success of The Muppets, Walt Disney Studios negotiated a
deal with James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller to direct and write,
respectively, an eighth Muppet film. Disney green-lit the film on
April 24th, 2012. Along with Brian Henson, Bobin was the only other
person to have directed two Muppet films to date.
Jason Segel, co-writer and star of the
previous film, declined any involvement, citing that he had
accomplished his ambition of bringing the characters to the forefront
with the 2011 film. Despite this, Bobin and Stoller quickly began
work on the film. Taking on the form of a caper, the film was
inspired by both The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take
Manhattan as well as The Pink Panther and The Thomas Crown Affair.
Bobin said that the film was "a tip of the hat to the old-school
crime capers of the '60s, but featuring a frog, a pig, a bear, and a
dog, no panthers, even pink onesalong with the usual Muppet-y
mix of mayhem, music and laughs".
first actor to be attached to the film was Christoph Waltz in the
role of an Interpol inspector. Waltz dropped out due to scheduling
conflicts and was replaced by Ty Burrell. In December 2012, Ricky
Gervais confirmed his casting. Tina Fey joined the project in January
of the following year.
Originally commissioned under the title
The Muppets... Again!, principal photography began in January 2013,
at London's Pinewood Studios in England. Filming also took place at
the Tower of London, a site where the Crown Estate rarely grants
permission to do so. Additional filming locations in London included
Leicester Square, Tower Hill, the Richmond Theatre, Wilton's Music
Hall, Freemasons' Hall and The Historic Dockyard, Chatham. In
addition to the United Kingdom, scenes were also shot at Union
Station, the Walt Disney Studios lot, and on Hollywood Boulevard (to
recreate the previous film's ending) in Los Angeles. On June 13th,
2013, the title of the film was changed from The Muppets... Again! to
Muppets Most Wanted.
The production design was done by Eve
Stewart, who took a tongue-in-cheek approach to each country setting
while also being influenced by the retro style of "crime capers
of the '60s and '70s". Rahel Afiley returned as the costume
designer, compiling the wardrobe for both Muppet and human
characters. In addition to Afiley's own creations, English fashion
designer Vivienne Westwood also contributed four outfits for Miss
Piggy while United States retailer Brooks Brothers created more than
200 items for the male cast. Discussing Miss Piggy's wedding gown,
Westwood said, "It's called the Court dress and is inspired by
17th-century English royalty and the court of King Charles II. It has
been designed [...] in a white pearl sequin fabric made from recycled
As with the previous film spoof posters
were released during the marketing campaign, parodying Skyfall
(called Frogfall), The World Is Not Enough (called The Pig Is Not
Enough), Face/Off (called Fraud/Frog), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
(called Animal Piggy Frog Spy).
After the release of Muppets Most Wanted,
Disney was interested in expanding the Muppets' presence across
various media platforms, particularly in television. Discussions for
a new primetime series began internally within the Muppets Studio. By
April 2015, Bill Prady was commissioned to write a script for a pilot
with the working title, Muppets 2015. In May 2015, ABC-TV (the
network, and the production companies are all owned by The Walt
Disney Company) announced that it had greenlit a new primetime
television series titled, The Muppets, co-created by Prady and Bob
Kushell, and directed by Randall Einhorn. The series marked the
characters' first ongoing prime-time network television series since
Muppets Tonight was canceled in 1998.
This marks the second time Prady has
attempted to revive The Muppets. Before co-creating CBS' The Big Bang
Theory, the writer-producer shot some test footage that ABC
ultimately passed on. Prady's history with The Muppets dates back to
his work on Fraggle Rock in 1987. His previous writing credits for
Muppet productions include the Muppet*Vision 3D attraction at Walt
Disney World, and the tribute special The Muppets Celebrate Jim
Henson, which earned Prady an Emmy Award nomination in 1991.
The series is set in Los Angeles and
depicts the everyday personal and professional lives of The Muppets
during production of Up Late with Miss Piggy, a fictional late-night
talk show starring Miss Piggy airing on ABC after Jimmy Kimmel Live!
The Muppets serves as a parody of other mockumentary-style series,
such as The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation by
employing the same single-camera setup filming style with the
implication of a documentary crew filming everyone. The series
starred Muppet performers Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz,
Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, and Peter Linz in multiple roles.
Executive producer Bob Kushell explained
the intention behind the series; "We have the opportunity to
explore these characters as individuals with their own emotional
lives that are separate from each other and aren't shadowed by each
other's presence, as I think they have been for the last 20 years...
it's not just a behind-the-scenes look at a show, but it's the
relationship-driven, emotional stories that people go through in
their personal lives. Everyone in this version of The Muppets wants
to push them further in a way they've never been before."
Kushell added, "Rightfully or wrongfully, The Muppets became
more of a kids' product over the years. We want to bring them all the
way back to what they were intended to be and then some. But never so
much that anyone has to explain anything uncomfortable to their kids."
The show was notable for introducing a new
pig into Kermits life, Denise, ABC executive and Head of Marketing on
Up Late with Miss Piggy. Kermit and Piggy have broken up again (they
are just on a break) but Kermit insists Denise are he are just
"close friends." Kermit would later admitted to
Entertainment Tonight that he's got a thing for pigs because he finds
their curly tails attractive.
Before ever seeing an episode, the group
One Million Moms (actual membership closer to 50,000), an offshoot of
the American Family Association, began protesting The Muppets, citing
it as "unsuitable for family viewing", and calling for
boycotts against it immediately after ABC announced they had picked
it up. The Muppets later parodied One Million Moms' critique in their
twelfth episode, "A Tail of Two Piggies", as the One
Million Angry Parents Association represented by three protestors.
The series premiered on September 22nd
2015 to generally favorable reviews but only lasted one season.