Earlier this week, Muppets fan site ToughPigs.com exclusively revealed that Steve Whitmire, who had been the voice and puppeteer of Kermit the Frog for twenty-seven years, has left the cast of the Muppets and is being replaced by Matt Vogel, who performs several other Muppets, including Constantine in Muppets Most Wanted.
While this news is surprising, and has been especially difficult for many devoted fans of the franchise to come to terms with, I’d rather not speculate about Steve’s departure. Instead, I’d like to discuss the future of the Muppets with Disney, who acquired the franchise in 2004. What could be next for Kermit and the gang? Here’s what we know, and here are some of my own ideas.
The Muppet Babies
That’s right, The Muppet Babies is being rebooted. The new series will debut on Disney Junior sometime next year and will be animated in CGI as opposed to traditional animation. We haven’t seen much from this yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some footage comes out of the D23 Expo 2017 this weekend.
I’m obviously not the target audience for this show, but I am excited to see the Muppets have a regular presence on television again, and it’s great to know that a new generation will be familiar with these characters from an early age. The first incarnation of The Muppet Babies was animated, but I wish that this reboot utilized puppets instead. I’m not sure that the “magic” of the Muppets and the personalities of the characters come through as well in animation as they do in live-action.
I’m also not sure how to feel about the fact that the characters will likely not be voiced by the talented people who perform the characters in everything else. I know that Steve Whitmire and the other performers feel very close to their characters, and they bring a lot of themselves into their performances, so I can’t help but feel like it would be a disservice to them and to the fans to use an entirely different cast here.
The Muppets Take Manhattan, For Real?
The Muppets hit the Great White Way in their third feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan way back in 1984, but there’s a chance that they could be headed to Broadway again – for real this time. Disney Theatrical Productions has been considering a live stage show for the Muppets, ideally on Broadway, for years now and has even put on a brief presentation of what that might look like.
The presentation was directed by Alex Timbers and was seen only by a handful of producers and the like on May 31, 2013 at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, which is currently home to the Broadway production of Disney’s Aladdin. There isn’t very much known about the presentation, but, according to Variety, it was mostly focused on the technical requirements that come along with using so many puppets in a live stage show.
Oh, and Kermit the Frog definitely sang “The Rainbow Connection,” in case you weren’t already jealous of the people who were important enough to be invited to that presentation. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard anything about this since that presentation four years ago, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still in the cards. (The Muppets are set to perform “their most popular songs and routines” at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in September, which could very well be a precursor or “test” of sorts for a full-fledged Broadway musical. Fingers crossed.)
A Return to the Big Screen
Disney brought the Muppets back to the big screen with The Muppets in 2011, which was met with critical acclaim and even garnered an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The film was so successful that a sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, was greenlit not long after and was released in 2014, although it failed to match the financial success of the first film.
Personally, I liked Muppets Most Wanted just fine, but I do think it lacked the heart and scope of its predecessor. James Bobin, who directed both films, and co-screenwriter Nicholas Stoller have expressed interest in making a third Muppets film, but as a result of the disappointing return on their second outing (not to mention the abysmal Alice Through the Looking Glass, which shares a director in James Bobin), a third film was never announced. I don’t think, however, that that totally precludes the Muppets from getting another shot at a theatrical feature film in the future. As for what a new Muppet movie could be, read on to my next few points…
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
The Muppets have starred in adaptations of iconic, beloved stories before, albeit to varying degrees of success. The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island are the best examples of this, while the 2005 made-for-television film The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz is the worst.
How fun would it be, though, if the Muppets were to crossover with another beloved Disney franchise like Star Wars? Think Spaceballs or even Family Guy‘s many riffs on Star Wars but infused with the charm and humor of the Muppets. It would be a smart move in terms of corporate synergy, similar to what Warner Bros. set out to achieve with The LEGO Batman Movie, and it wouldn’t be the first time the Muppets have been associated with Star Wars. (There’s a good summary of the various connections between the two franchises that you can read here if you’re interested.) I’m not saying it would be easy to get right, but I think there’s definitely potential in the idea of a Star Wars-based Muppet movie, and I would love to see them go for it.
The Muppets have long been vaguely associated with holidays, particularly Christmas, whether that’s because of The Muppet Christmas Carol or the franchise’s many holiday-centric television specials and direct-to-video films like It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. I think, then, that a new holiday-based Muppet movie would be a pretty safe bet for Disney, especially if that holiday is Christmas.
I wouldn’t mind seeing the Muppets give a Halloween movie a whirl either, but I think Christmas is a proven fit for the franchise. Given a good release date (ideally sometime in November) and a sufficient marketing campaign, I have trouble believing that this wouldn’t be at least a modest hit at the box office. Who doesn’t love holidays?
TV, Take Two (or Three or Four)
We were all rooting for the Muppets when it was announced that they would be at the center of a new, primetime television series. With Bill Prady, co-creator of The Big Bang Theory at the helm and an enthusiastic response to the pilot from executives at Disney and ABC, it seemed like the stars had aligned for the show, simply titled The Muppets, to be a hit.
As much as I and everyone else wanted to love the show, I think everyone could agree that it just wasn’t working. The ratings, although initially respectable, fell with each episode, and a change in showrunners and creative direction failed to generate enough goodwill to kick things up again. I wouldn’t blame Disney for being apprehensive towards the idea of bringing the Muppets back to television so soon, but I do think there is a way to make a Muppets show work in 2017, and I would love to see them give another go. Obviously something exactly like The Muppet Show wouldn’t appeal to contemporary audiences, but I think that could still be used as a jumping off point for what a new Muppets show could be. I personally really enjoyed Studio DC: Almost Live, a short-lived, half-hour variety show on the Disney Channel that featured the Muppets and various Disney Channel stars in comedy sketches and musical numbers, sort of like a much tamer, kid-friendly Saturday Night Live.
Speaking of SNL, I think it’s worth mentioning that that show is perhaps more popular now than it’s ever been, which proves that there is a place for a show with that kind of format on TV (although you could argue that SNL owes its regained popularity to interest in American politics, which I would prefer the Muppets to avoid like the plague).
But, hey, those are just some of my ideas. What would you like to see the Muppets do next? Feel free to chime in with your own ideas in the comments below!