The Muppets

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The Muppets
The Muppets logo.svg
Created byJim Henson
Jane Henson
Original workSam and Friends
Owned byThe Muppets Studio
(The Walt Disney Company)
Print publications
ComicsComics list
Films and television
Film(s)Film list
Television seriesTelevision series list
Games
Video game(s)Video game list
Audio
Soundtrack(s)Discography
Miscellaneous
Theme park attraction(s)Muppet*Vision 3D
The Muppets Present...Great Moments in American History
Muppet Mobile Lab
Web seriesStatler and Waldorf: From the Balcony
The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora

The Muppets are an ensemble cast of puppet characters known for their absurdist, burlesque, and self-referential style of variety-sketch comedy. Created by Jim and Jane Henson in 1955, they are the namesake for the Disney media franchise that encompasses television, music, film, and other media associated with the characters.

The Muppets originated in the short-form television series Sam and Friends, which aired from 1955 to 1961. Following appearances on late night talk shows and in advertising during the 1960s, the Muppets began appearing on Sesame Street in 1969. The Muppets attained celebrity status and international recognition through The Muppet Show (1976–1981), which received four Primetime Emmy Award wins and twenty-one nominations during its five-year run.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Muppets diversified into theatrical 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, during which Henson entered negotiations to sell The Jim Henson Company. The Muppets continued their media presence in the 1990s with television series The Jim Henson Hour (1989) and Muppets Tonight (1996–98), both of which were similar in format to The Muppet Show, and three films: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets from Space (1999).

Disney acquired the Muppets in February 2004, allowing the characters to gain broader public exposure than in previous years.[1][2][3] Under Disney, subsequent projects included two films: The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014); a short-lived primetime series on ABC;[4][5][6][7][8] and a reboot of the Muppet Babies animated series.

In their six-decade career, the Muppets have been regarded as a staple of the entertainment industry and popular culture in the United States and English-speaking area generally, being recognized by various cultural institutions and organizations, including the American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Library of Congress, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

History[edit]

1950s–1960s: Beginnings[edit]

Jim Henson in 1989

The Muppets were created by puppeteer Jim Henson in the 1950s; among his earliest creations was Kermit the Frog, who would become Henson's most recognizable character. Originally conceived for an adult audience,[9] Henson claimed, and later recanted, that he coined the term "Muppet" as a portmanteau of the words "marionette" and "puppet".[10] In 1955, the Muppets were introduced in Sam and Friends, a short-form television series produced for WRC-TV in Washington D.C.[11] Developed by Henson and his future wife Jane Nebel, the series was the first form of puppet media not to incorporate a physical proscenium arch typical of such works, relying instead on the natural framing of the television set through which it was viewed.[12]

During the 1960s, the characters—in particular, Kermit and Rowlf the Dog—appeared in skits on several late-night talk shows and on television commercials, including The Ed Sullivan Show. Rowlf became the first Muppet character to appear regularly on network television when he began appearing with Jimmy Dean on The Jimmy Dean Show. In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett began developing a children's educational television program and approached Henson to design a cast of Muppet characters during this stage. Produced by the Children's Television Workshop, the program debuted as Sesame Street in 1969.

Henson and his creative team became closely involved with Sesame Street during 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 garnered a positive response, and the Muppets' involvement in the series was said to be a vital component of its increasing popularity, providing an "effective and pleasurable viewing" method of presentation for its educational curriculum.[13][14]

1970s: The Muppet Show and foray into film[edit]

In the early 1970s, the Muppets continued their presence in television, primarily appearing in The Land of Gorch segments during the first season of Saturday Night Live. As his involvement with Sesame Street continued, Henson began developing a network television series focusing on the Muppets;[15] as opposed to Sesame Street, however, this series would be aimed at a more adult audience and focus largely on sketch comedy. Two television pilots, 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 other networks in the United States expressed little interest in the project, British producer Lew Grade approached Henson and agreed to co-produce the series for Associated Television. Debuting in 1976, The Muppet Show introduced new characters such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and Animal alongside existing characters such as Kermit and Rowlf. Aired in first-run syndication in the United States, The Muppet Show became increasingly popular due to its sketch-variety format, unique form of humor, and prolific roster of guest stars. It was nominated for twenty-one Primetime Emmy Awards during its run, winning four, including Outstanding Variety Series in 1978. The success of The Muppet Show allowed Henson Associates to diversify into theatrical films, the first of which, The Muppet Movie, was released in 1979.

1980s–1990s: Subsequent projects[edit]

Following The Muppet Movie were The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, released in 1981 and 1984, respectively. Collectively, the three films received four Academy Award nominations. In 1983, Henson debuted Fraggle Rock, which aired on HBO in the United States until 1987.[16]

In 1989, Henson entered negotiations with Michael Eisner and The Walt Disney Company, in which the latter would acquire Jim Henson Productions and, in turn, the Muppets. Disney expressed interest in purchasing the company for $150 million.[17] Eisner was also interested in acquiring the Sesame Street Muppet characters. Henson declined the proposal, however, considering it a "non-starter" for the deal.[18] As discussions continued, Henson and Walt Disney Imagineering preemptively began developing Muppets-themed attractions for the Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World.

However, the proposed merger was canceled after Henson's death in 1990. Nevertheless, Disney initiated a licensing agreement with Henson to continue developing Muppets attractions.[19] The following year, Muppet*Vision 3D debuted at Disney-MGM Studios, the only attraction successfully developed from the original plans. Disney also co-produced the fourth and fifth Muppets films, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, with Henson in 1992 and 1996, respectively.[4] The characters subsequently starred in Muppets Tonight, which aired from 1996 to 1998; and a sixth film, Muppets from Space, released by Columbia Pictures in 1999.

In 2000, Henson was sold to EM.TV & Merchandising AG for $680 million.[20] However, EM.TV’s stock collapsed and the Henson family re-acquired the company in 2003, with the exception of the Sesame Street characters, which were in the interim sold to Sesame Workshop.[4]

2000s: Disney era[edit]

Fourteen years after initial negotiations began, Disney acquired the Muppets intellectual property from Henson for $75 million on February 17, 2004. The acquisition consisted of most of the Muppets film and television library, as well as the Bear in the Big Blue House television series.[1][2][3][21] Exceptions included the Sesame Street characters, which were previously sold to Sesame Workshop;[22] the Fraggle Rock characters, which were retained by Henson; and the distribution rights to four films: The Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppets from Space, and Kermit's Swamp Years, which were retained by Sony Pictures Entertainment; and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, retained by NBCUniversal Television Distribution.[21] Following the acquisition, Disney formed The Muppets Studio (originally The Muppets Holding Company), a wholly owned subsidiary responsible for managing the characters and franchise. As a result, the term "Muppet" became a legal trademark of Disney; under license from Disney, Sesame Workshop continues to use the term for their characters, as well archival footage of Kermit the Frog.

Henson retains the rights to several 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 have since been released uncut, most current releases of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and The Christmas Toy omit the appearances by Kermit the Frog.

Disney gradually began reintroducing the franchise to the mainstream in 2008.[4][5] As a method of regaining a wider audience, Disney produced a series of vignettes for YouTube. A "Bohemian Rhapsody" cover version was among these projects and immediately went viral, ultimately amassing 50 million views and won two Webby Awards.[23] In 2010, the Muppets starred in The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora, which co-starred Cat Cora and showcased cooking demonstrations.[24] A television special, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, premiered on NBC on December 17, 2008; and was released on DVD on September 29, 2009.[25]

In 2010, Disney used the Muppets to promote their volunteerism program at the company's theme parks. A Halloween special featuring the Muppets was developed during that time and expected to air on ABC that October, but was canceled.[26]

2010s: Renewed success; current projects[edit]

In 2011, the Muppets were featured in an eponymous seventh film, intended to serve as a "creative reboot" for the characters.[27] Disney had been furthering development on a Muppets film since 2008, when it considered adapting an unused screenplay by Jerry Juhl. Directed by James Bobin; written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller; and starring Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, and Rashida Jones, the film was a critical and commercial success, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.[28] During the film's publicity campaign, the Muppets appeared in promotional advertisements and effusive marketing efforts by Disney and were also featured in a promotional video for Google+.[29] In March 2012, the Muppets received a collective star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[30] That year, the Muppets hosted a Just for Laughs comedy gala in Montreal.[31]

Following the successful performance of The Muppets, Disney announced an eighth film in 2012, with Bobin and Stoller returning to direct and write, respectively.[32] Muppets Most Wanted was released in 2014, and starred Ricky Gervais; Tina Fey; and Ty Burrell.[7][33]

Disney Theatrical Productions announced in 2013 that a live show based on the Muppets was in active development and that a 15-minute show had been conducted by Thomas Schumacher to see how the technical components would work.[34] Muppet Moments, an interstitial television series, premiered on Disney Junior in April 2015. The short-form series features conversations between the Muppets and young children.[35]

After the release of Muppets Most Wanted, Disney was interested in expanding the Muppets' presence across various media platforms, particularly in television.[36] Discussions for a new primetime series began internally within The Muppets Studio.[27] By April 2015, Bill Prady was commissioned to write a script for a pilot with the working title Muppets 2015.[37] In May 2015, ABC commissioned an eponymous mockumentary series, co-developed by Prady and Bob Kushell and directed by Randall Einhorn.[38][39] The Muppets premiered on September 22, 2015 in the United States, and ended on March 1, 2016.[8][40] In September 2017, the Muppets performed a series of live shows at the Hollywood Bowl, hosted by Bobby Moynihan.[41] Two web television series have been in development, both for Disney+: Muppets Live Another Day, intended to star Josh Gad, was announced in February 2018 and entered active development the following year[42][43]; in September 2019, Gad confirmed the project's cancellation[44]. Muppets Now, a short-form improvisational comedy series, was announced in August 2019; it is scheduled for a 2020 debut[45]. In July 2018, the cast performed a series of live shows at London's O2 Arena, their first outside of the United States.[46]

Characters[edit]

Kermit the Frog is Henson's most famous Muppet creation. He is shown in this photograph performing "Bein' Green" on The Muppet Show.

The principal characters of The Muppet Show and subsequent media include Kermit the Frog; Miss Piggy; Fozzie Bear; Gonzo; Rowlf the Dog; Scooter; Rizzo the Rat; Pepe the King Prawn; Dr. Bunsen Honeydew; Beaker; Statler and Waldorf; the Swedish Chef; Sam Eagle; Walter; and the Electric Mayhem, fronted by Dr. Teeth (keyboard) and consisting of Animal (drums), Floyd Pepper (bass), Janice (lead guitar), Zoot (saxophone), and occasionally Lips (trumpet).

As well as The Muppet Show, the characters are popular for their appearances on Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock; and also feature in The Jimmy Dean Show, The Jim Henson Hour, Muppets Tonight, Bear in the Big Blue House, Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony, and The Muppets. An adult-oriented segment, The Land of Gorch, was a regular feature in the first season of Saturday Night Live. Guest stars on Saturday Night Live occasionally include both the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, as well as Muppet likenesses of real people; these likenesses appear recurrently in early episodes of The Muppet Show and on Sesame Street, and appear occasionally on other series such as 30 Rock.

Following Disney's acquisition of the Muppets, puppets created by The Jim Henson Company are no longer referred to as Muppets. Puppets created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, including those in Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, have never been considered Muppets,[47] as they are generally more complex in design and performance than regular Muppets. At Henson's suggestion, the Star Wars character Yoda was originally performed by Frank Oz,[48] and has been loosely described as a Muppet in media and reference works; he is not, however, and Henson otherwise had no involvement in the character's conception.[49][50]

Performers[edit]

Performer Principal characters
Matt Vogel Kermit the Frog, Floyd Pepper, Uncle Deadly, Lew Zealand, Sweetums
Eric Jacobson Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam Eagle
Dave Goelz Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf, Zoot, Beauregard
Bill Barretta Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Pepe the King Prawn, The Swedish Chef, Bobo the Bear
David Rudman Scooter, Janice, Beaker, Wayne
Peter Linz Walter, Statler, Lips, Link Hogthrob, Robin the Frog

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 year. Although interested, Oz initially declined due to his youth and commitment to high school, and instead suggested Jerry Juhl, who worked with Oz at the Vagabond Puppet Theater in Oakland, California. Upon graduating, Oz subsequently joined in August 1963. By the time The Muppet Show began, the primary cast of performers grew to consist of Henson; Oz; Dave Goelz; Jerry Nelson; Richard Hunt; and later, Steve Whitmire, while Juhl became head writer for the series. From The Muppet Show onward, Kevin Clash; Kathryn Mullen; Louise Gold; Karen Prell; Fran Brill, Caroll Spinney; and Brian Henson performed several minor characters and assisted the main performers with puppeteering. Many of these puppeteers performed characters across The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and other Henson-related projects.

Henson, Hunt, and Nelson continued performing until their deaths in 1990, 1992, and 2012, respectively. Whitmire, Goelz, and Bill Barretta, who joined the main cast of performers in the mid-1990s, assumed Henson's characters, with Whitmire also assuming the role of Beaker. The remainder of Hunt's characters were left without a stable performer until David Rudman was cast in those roles in the late 2000s. Oz continued performing until his retirement from puppeteering in 2000; Eric Jacobson assumed his characters beginning in 2002.[27] At Nelson's behest, Matt Vogel gradually began performing his characters in 2008.

Whitmire was dismissed from the cast in 2016, with Vogel cast as Kermit the Frog in 2017, and most of Whitmire's other characters assumed by the remainder of the cast.[51] The Muppets are currently performed by a cast of six principal puppeteers: Jacobson, Goelz, Barretta, Rudman, Vogel and Peter Linz.[27]

Design and performance[edit]

A Rowlf the Dog puppet on display at an exhibit in Little Rock, Arkansas. Common design elements appear on this puppet, including glove-like “live hands”.

The majority of the Muppets are designed as hand puppets, with several characters utilizing rods. Common design elements of the Muppets include wide mouths and large protruding eyes. Most of the Muppets molded or carved out of various types of foam and covered with any felt-like material. The characters may represent humans; anthropomorphic characters; realistic animals; robots; extraterrestrial or mythical creatures; or other forms of abstract characters.

The Muppets are distinguished from ventriloquist dummies, which are usually animated only in the head and face, in that their arms or other features are also animated. They are also generally made of softer material. They are presented as being independent of the puppeteer, officially known as a "Muppet peformer", who is usually hidden behind a set or outside of the camera frame. Using the camera frame to this advantage was an innovation of the Muppets. Prior to this, a stage was used to mask the performers, as would be the case in a live performance. Sometimes, they are seen full-bodied; in most cases, invisible strings are used to manipulate these puppets, with vocals added at a later point.[52]

Since 2006, Disney has contracted Puppet Heap to produce and maintain newer models of the Muppets.[53] During most performances, the performer holds the character above their head or in front of their body, with one hand operating the head and mouth and the other manipulating the hands and arms, either with two separate control rods or – in the case of "live-hand" Muppets – wearing the hands similarly to gloves. One consequence of this design is that most of the Muppets are left-handed, with the performer using their right hand to operate the head while operating the arm with their left hand.

For more complex Muppets, several performers may operate a single character, with the performer controlling the mouth usually voicing the character. As technology has advanced, the Jim Henson team and other performers have developed several means to operate the Muppets for film and television; these include the use of suspended rigs, internal motors, remote manipulators, and computer enhanced and superimposed images. Creative use of different technologies has allowed for scenes in which the Muppets appear to exhibit complex movements wholly independently of the performer.

In his book Street Gang, author Michael Davis wrote that the characters tend to develop "organically", alluding to the performers taking up to a year to develop their characters and voices. They are also "test-driven, passed around from one Henson troupe member to another in the hope of finding the perfect human-Muppet match".[54] When interacting with them, children believed that Muppets were living beings, even when the performers were present.[55]

Media[edit]

Filmography and television[edit]

Discography[edit]

On September 17, 2002, Rhino Records released The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem, and More, a compilation album of music from The Muppet Show and subsequent film releases. With John Denver, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together was produced and released in 1979.

Under Disney ownership, The Muppets album releases have been issued by Walt Disney Records; as well as new album releases, some albums have been re-released, including The Muppet Christmas Carol in 2005 and The Muppet Movie in 2013. Legal music publishing rights to The Muppets songs are controlled by Fuzzy Muppet Songs and Mad Muppet Melodies, imprints of Disney Music Publishing.

Theme parks[edit]

Muppet*Vision 3D has operated at Disney's Hollywood Studios since 1991.
The Stage 1 Company Store is adjacent to Muppet*Vision 3D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The Muppets appear at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, having first appeared at Walt Disney World in 1990. Their first featured attraction, Here Come the Muppets, was a live stage show that opened shortly after Jim Henson's death and ran at Disney's Hollywood Studios (known at that time as Disney-MGM Studios) for a year.[56] Muppet*Vision 3D, a 4D film attraction that also uses audio-animatronic characters, opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios on May 16, 1991, exactly one year after Henson’s death. It is notable as Henson’s final directorial effort. Muppet*Vision 3D subsequently opened at Disney California Adventure, on February 8, 2001; this version closed in 2014.

The Muppets also feature in The Muppets Present...Great Moments in American History at the Magic Kingdom since 2016; and the Muppet Mobile Lab at Epcot.[57][58] 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[59] and was later previewed at Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland.[60][61]

In 2010, the Muppets were the face of the "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" charity campaign. Participants could register for a select service activity on the accompanying Web site, and in return could print a voucher for a free one-day admission ticket to Disneyland or Walt Disney World Resort. The Muppets appeared in television and print ads for the campaign and were featured prominently on the campaign's Web site.[62]

Disney has released numerous collector pins featuring the Muppets since 2004. These include Limited Edition pins, Hidden Mickey pin collections, mystery pin sets, 2008 pin sets promoting The Muppets, cast lanyard pins, and assorted individual rack pins. Over 100 pins displaying the characters have been released overall.[63]

Publishing[edit]

Among other print media, the Muppets have featured in comics since the 1970s. An eponymous comic strip by Guy and Brad Gilchrist first ran on September 21, 1981 in over 500 daily newspapers, six months after The Muppet Show ended its five-year run. By the end of its run in 1986, the comic strip was seen in over 660 newspapers worldwide. Many of the strips were compiled in various book collections.[64] Special strips were also created in color, exclusively for issues of Muppet Magazine.

The only Muppets film adapted as a comic book 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 issue #32. The adaptation was later re-printed into three limited series issues, released under Marvel's Star Comics imprint (November 1984 – January 1985).

In the wake of Muppet Babies' success, Star Comics adapted the series into a bi-monthly title, featuring original stories. The final issue of Disney Adventures, released in 2007, included a one-page strip by Roger Langridge.

In 2009, Boom! Studios began publishing a series of comic books based on The Muppet Show, written and illustrated by Langridge. Following two mini-series, an ongoing series, The Muppet Show Comic Book, was published for eleven issues. Additionally, Boom! Studios published fairy tale adaptations centered on the Muppets. In 2012, the Langridge series was transferred to Marvel Comics, which released an omnibus edition in 2013.[65]

Muppet Magazine was published from 1983 to 1989. The magazine was presented as being run by the Muppets themselves and included such features as celebrity interviews and comic stories.[66]

In popular culture[edit]

The Muppets performing with CeeLo Green at Rockefeller Center in 2012.

The prevalence of the Muppets in popular culture is such that the characters have become regarded as celebrities in their own right.[67] The Muppets have a collective star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with Kermit having been previously individually inducted in 2002.[30] The characters have appeared at the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards;[68][69] made cameo appearances in films including Rocky III,[70] An American Werewolf in London,[71] and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium;[72] and have been interviewed on the news magazine 60 Minutes.

Kermit was interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show;[73] guest hosted The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, America's Funniest Home Videos, and an April Fools' Day edition of Larry King Live;[74] and has served as Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade.[75] The characters also appeared on The Cosby Show and The Torkelsons,[76] among other sitcoms. The music video for Weezer's "Keep Fishin'" is aesthetically based on The Muppet Show and consists of the band interacting with the characters.

On September 28, 2005, the United States Postal Service released a Jim Henson and the Muppets postage stamp series.[77] The Muppets also appeared on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve on December 31, 2007, in which Kermit and other characters presented segments following advertising breaks. After one such segment, with Kermit in Times Square, co-host Ryan Seacrest thanked "Kerms" for his assistance.[78] Miss Piggy has appeared as a guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and Kermit appeared on Hollywood Squares and as one of the celebrity commentators on VH1's I Love documentary series. The Muppets, as well as the title character of Bear in the Big Blue House, have made frequent appearances on The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

On July 25, 2007, the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta announced the opening of the Jim Henson Wing, which would house up to 700 retired Muppet characters. The wing, first set to open in 2012 with films, sketches, and other materials from the Jim Henson Company archives, eventually opened as a gallery within the Worlds of Puppetry exhibition at the Center in November 2015.[79][80][81]

Muppet-like characters star in the Broadway musical Avenue Q. The Peter Jackson film Meet the Feebles, a satire on the television industry, is largely reminiscent of The Muppet Show. A Kermit the Frog stuffed toy rigged to spray fake vomit recurred on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and the Muppets were frequently preempted at the beginning of episodes of You Can't Do That on Television. The mockumentary series Greg the Bunny centered on sentient hand puppets working on a Muppet-like children's show. Among other examples, series such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, The West Wing and Robot Chicken have referenced the Muppets.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]