One of the best qualities of the Muppet brand is its seamless ability to transcend mediums and even demographics. It can always be experimented with in different ways, each completely unique from the last. If one particular project doesn’t take off, that’s ok. The franchise picks itself up and moves on to try something new. Hot off the heels of their self-titled The Muppets ABC sitcom not quite reeling in the ratings despite positive reviews, the property now turns to an unexpected new outlet: theme parks.
This week, Walt Disney World opened not one but two new Muppet experiences in Florida, with another on the way before the year is over.
First at Magic Kingdom comes The Muppets present Great Moments in American History, which debuted October 2 and is performed several times daily. The show realizes every Muppet fan’s dream come true: to see actual Muppet perform in person, right before their eyes. Using actual Muppets, the show takes place high above guests’ heads in the window frames of Liberty Square buildings, just outside The Hall of Presidents (much to Sam Eagle’s delight). I had the privilege of seeing the show’s first performance. It is expertly crafted by a team who clearly has a love for these characters, and even includes a few references to other Muppet productions. There are two completely different variations of the show, one about the Declaration of Independence and the other highlighting Paul Revere, each equally great. The laughs of the gathered crowd affirm the spectacle as an immediate hit, and the joy of seeing real Muppets in person is delightful.
While Great Moments was announced months ago, this next project came as a complete surprise. Over at Epcot, unannounced and unexpected, Muppet Mobile Lab made a joyous return to the park October 3 after an absence of nearly a decade. The once-short-lived experience involved Audio-Animatronics versions of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker roaming Future World. (Honeydew tells the audience they’ve been invited by Mickey Mouse himself to share Muppet Labs’ recent scientific findings.) They interact in real time with guests in an expert example of Walt Disney Imagineering at its finest. Again, the thrill of seeing Muppets in action entrances the audience. For the lucky few who get to talk directly with Honeydew during the show it’s nothing short of incredible, especially for those familiar with the characters. If anyone happens to be unfamiliar with who these two are, there’s still plenty to laugh at as Beaker is inevitably the victim of another science experiment gone horribly wrong. Currently, Honeydew and Beaker’s appearances are unlisted on any Disney schedule, instead materializing as a surprise for guests who just so happen to be strolling through the plaza behind Spaceship Earth.
That’s a lot of Muppet fun, and they’re not done. Later this fall at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, PizzeRizzo will become the first Muppet restaurant anywhere in the world. Replacing the underwhelming Pizza Planet adjacent to the pre-existing MuppetVision 3D, PizzeRizzo will be owned by Rizzo the Rat. As a quick-service location with new second-floor patio dining, it promises plenty of fun details throughout its atmosphere and nomenclature (already abundant in its construction walls’ wordplay).
In the past five years alone, we’ve seen three drastically different outlets for Muppet media, each with its set of triumphs and obstacles. First came the Jason Segel-led theatrical film in 2011, designed to give the franchise a macro boost by crafting the ultimate Muppet tribute film. Its success led to another theatrical outing, 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted, which was enjoyable but not as universally acclaimed (or, admittedly, noticed). Moving away from wide releases, the property then turned to television, first by means of preschool-geared interstitials on Disney Junior and then via a weekly adult-geared primetime sitcom on ABC. That’s quite a diverse portfolio, and its ultimatum turned out to be a bit too diverse. Struggling to resonate with either audience, both programs were discontinued. As a result, here we gloriously stand in a new era and medium of Muppet projects through the new theme park experiences. These are all, of course, on top of the all-smiles MuppetVision 3D, a beacon of the ’90s that (seemingly) will remain open in the middle of a park full of 21st-century expansion toward Star Wars and Toy Story additions.
The fact that guests are exposed to the Muppets in three out of four Walt Disney World parks is pretty remarkable, and proof that their established legacy will always outweigh any temporary setback the franchise may face.
Which of these new Muppet experiences would you most want to see in person?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes