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With new merch & a new movie in the pipeline, there's no stopping the Muppets now

Jim Hill

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With new merch & a new movie in the pipeline, there's no stopping the Muppets now

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You want proof that the Muppets are the middle of a major comeback?

Okay. Our first stop is Guest Relations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Which has seen a serious uptick in ticked-off Guests over the past few days.

The Muppet cast from the original Muppet 3D attraction at Disney World
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Why For? Because MuppetVision 3-D closed back on April 23rd so that the Imagineers could then refurb this now-19-year-old attraction. And even though this will be a relatively short closure (This DHS favorite is currently scheduled to re-open on May 14th), Guest Relations has still had a surprisingly large number of people drop by to complain about how they weren't able to see Kermit during this trip to that theme park.

Better yet, let’s talk about Set 2 of that hot new collectible line, the Disney Pook-a-Looz. The folks at Disney Consumer Products thought for sure that the “Nightmare Before Christmas” –themed pieces of plush (i.e. Jack Skellington, Sally and Oogie Boogie) would be the breakout characters this time around. But – according to DisneyStore.com insiders – it’s actually the Muppet-themed Pook-a-Looz (i.e. Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo and Animal) that online shoppers have been ordering.

Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal as Pook-a-looz
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So – given that the Muppets are in the middle of this rather large resurgence – is it any wonder that, a week ago today, Walt Disney Studios revealed that it was developing a brand-new Muppets feature film which it hopes to put into production this fall and then release sometime in 2011?

FYI: This is a completely different project than the one that was announced back at September of 2009 at the D23 EXPO. The Mouse House no longer plans on making “The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made.” Mind you, the film that Mickey is thinking of producing is currently untitled. But the word on the Web that this project is reportedly called “The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made.” More importantly, that this production will be directed by “Flight of the Conchords” creator James Bobin and feature a screenplay that's written by Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller.

Walt Disney Presents The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of things that got announced at the D23 EXPO … You remember that Muppets Halloween special? The one that was supposed to air on ABC this October? Well, the folks at Disney have decided to postpone production of that particular TV show.

Now please note that I used the word “postpone,” rather than “canceled.” The feeling in-house at the Mouse House is that – in the long run – it makes more sense for the Company to put all of its creative power (more importantly, its marketing might) behind the launch of a new Muppet feature film. That a project of that size would then have a far more lasting impact on the overall health of the Muppet brand than a single seasonal TV special would.

A Muppet Halloween Portrait for a seasonal TV special
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

More to the point, once this new Muppet movie is successfully launched sometime in 2011, the Company would then be free to circle back on the idea of producing a Muppet Halloween special for ABC. Which is now tentatively slated to air in 2012.

That’s kind of a running theme these days with the folks at Muppets Studio. That – because there’s been an obvious resurgence in the public’s interest in these much beloved characters (Witness what just happened with Disney Parks & Resorts’ “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” promotion. Company insiders will tell you that one of the main reasons that this campaign reached its million-volunteer goal so quickly [which is why registration for “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” had to be cut off back on March 9th] was because it was the Muppets who were asking people to volunteer. That those commercials really struck a chord with the public) – now it’s all about making sure that the Company channels all of this Muppet-based energy & excitement in just the right way. Into just the right projects.

Fozzie Bear, Pepe the Shrimp and Kermit the Frog volunteer to pound nails
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which is why – as ABC gets ready to launch its big promotional push for those last few episodes of “Lost” – you can expect to see a certain frog confabbing with that show’s producers, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. Likewise when the current season of “Desperate Housewives” is finally released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment later this year, don’t be surprised to find Eva Longoria chewing the fat with a particular porker as one of that DVD’s special features.

In addition to these efforts that are obviously aimed at more traditional forms of media, look for Muppets Studio to produce even more viral videos … Speaking of which: Just yesterday, “Bohemian Rhapsody” returned to the Web. Only this time around, it features a commentary track by Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Gonzo, Rizzo, Bobo … Virtually every character that appeared in this acclaimed viral video.

And this was done because … Well, the Muppets version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is up for two Webbys (i.e. “Best Viral” and “Best Music Video”).And the folks at Muppets Studio would really appreciate it if you voted for their video.

A word of caution, though: Today – April 29th -- is the very last day that the Webbys will be accepting votes for this year’s nominees. So if you’d really like to help put “Bohemian Rhapsody” over the top, you need to vote sometime today. Like right now, if you could.

I mean, you want to make Animal’s momma proud, don’t you?

As for what the future holds for the Muppets … Well, the Imagineers are still tweaking their plans to bring the Muppet Whatnot Workshop into the Parks. And given how popular that Muppet Vinylmation set proved to be earlier this year, you should expect to see additional vinyl collectibles featuring the likenesses of these much beloved characters popping up on store shelves in the not-so-distant future. And did I mention that Rizzo the Rat photo replica puppet that eFX Collectibles has in the works? Or that new line of Muppets plush that the Disney Store currently has in development?

And let’s not forget that “The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet The Muppets” just got nominated for an Eisner (That’s an Eisner as in a Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for 2010. Not former Disney head Michael Eisner) in the “Best Humor Publication” category.

The Muppet Show comic cover
Copyright BOOM! Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So it’s a very exciting, super busy time for Kermit & Co. But that news obviously isn’t going to placate you Muppets fans who recently made trips to DHS only to find Muppet Vision 3-D closed.

But the upside is … This Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ favorite will be re-opening on May 14th. And if you really need a Muppets fix to hold you over ‘til then, you can always head on over to the Magic Kingdom. Where Kermit, Piggy and Sweetums continue to lead off that theme park’s daily “Celebrate a Dream Come True” parade with their very own “Disney’s Honorary VoluntEars Cavalcade.”

Miss Piggy, Kermit and Sweetums take part in the parade at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Photo by Gene Duncan. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Speaking of which … If all goes according to plan, a still-in-the-can commercial – which shows the Muppets enjoying themselves at the Parks after completing their “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” volunteer efforts – should begin airing on national television sometime later this year. Mind you, no air date has been set for this ad yet. But that said, you should still keep an eye out for this Disney Parks & Resorts commercial.  It’s a lot of fun.

And until that ad airs … Well, perhaps The Nerdist podcast that Chris Hardwick just recorded with the Muppets (during which Miss Piggy talks about why she prefers feature films to viral videos and Beaker’s inner-most thoughts [i.e. “Why am I tasting fire?’] are revealed) will tide you over for a while.

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