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There were lots of tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow at Sesame Place's "A Very Furry Christmas"

Jim Hill

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There were lots of tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow at Sesame Place's "A Very Furry Christmas"

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SuperGrover22 wrote in yesterday with a Why For question:

Copyright Ballantine Books. All rights reserved

I just finished reading your review of Brian Jay Jones' "Jim Henson: The Biography ." Can you please explain why Michael Eisner seemed so eager to get his hands on the Sesame Street Muppets? Disney had all of its own characters plus it was about to acquire all of the classic Muppets. Wasn't that enough? Why For did Eisner keep trying to persuade Henson to hand over the Sesame Street Muppets as well?


You've got to remember that The Walt Disney Company was initially trying to make this deal with Henson Associates back in the late Summer / early Fall of 1989. This was just before "The Little Mermaid " opened in theaters. And Michael Eisner had no idea that this Ron Clements / John Musker movie would then usher in the Second Golden Age of Disney Animation. Which would then give the Company plenty of new characters to populate its theme parks with, not to mention providing inspiration for all manner of new merch for the Disney Stores.

More to the point, it would be another 22 years before the Company would launch its highly successful Disney Junior programming block. Which then led to the creation of the Disney Junior channel. And given that Mouse House managers knew that there were billions to be made off of catering to the pre-school & toddler crowd ... Well, that's why Eisner kept circling back on Sesame Street. Hoping against hope that Henson could eventually be persuaded to sell his half of the Children's Television Workshop to the Mouse House.

And speaking of Sesame Street ... This past weekend, Nancy and I journeyed to Langhorne, PA so that we could then check out Sesame Place's annual holiday offering, "A Very Furry Christmas." As we walked through this toddler-friendly theme park ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

... it's easy to see why Eisner was eager to get his mitts on the Sesame Street Muppets. Because when it comes to the 3-to-5 year-old set, these characters are rock stars.

I mean, everywhere we went in these theme park on Saturday night, we saw (to borrow a phrase from Mel Torme's holiday classic, "The Christmas Song"), "tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow." Not because it was bitterly cold that night. But -- rather -- because these kids were now face-to-face with full-sized versions of their favorite Sesame Street Muppets. Much beloved characters like Bert & Ernie ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

... Oscar the Grouch ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

... and Cookie Monster.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

And speaking of Cookie Monster ... Cookie will soon be serving as the host of a brand-new land which is currently under construction at Sesame Place. Cookie's Monster Land (which is due to open in May of 2014) will feature five new attractions themed around the Sesame Street monsters. With my favorite of the bunch being Oscar's Rotten Rusty Rockets. That sounds like a nice, safe ride to place your child on, doesn't it?

Copyright SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment / Sesame Workshop. All rights reserved

Anyway ... Getting back to "A Very Furry Christmas" at Sesame Place: I have to admit that it was kind of cool to get to see Sesame Street all decorated for the holidays.

Photo by Jim Hill

And as I watched all of these little kids excitedly experiencing all of the low-tech pleasures to be found at this theme park, items like ringing the bell on that fire truck which is parked at Sesame Street Engine No. 1 ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... or climbing aboard a very Muppet-y looking steed over at the Sunny Day Carousel.

Photo by Jim Hill

... or choosing which car to ride in over at Elmo's Flyin' Fish.

Which fish would you choose? The Angel Fish or the Cat Fish?
Photo by Jim Hill

It was a reminder that not everything in the theme park world has to be a super-deluxe E Ticket Plus like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and/or Radiator Springs Racer. Especially when you're catering to the 3-to-5 year-old crowd, there's a lot to be said for being just simple & straight-forward. Giving kids this size the chance to do something exciting with Mom & Dad like zooming off into space aboard Elmo's Blast Off.

Photo by Jim Hill

Given how cold it was this past Saturday night, Nancy and I took shelter in Mr. Hooper's Emporium. And since this was the largest shop at Sesame Place, there was -- as you might expect -- a wide variety of Muppet-related merchandise. And some of the retail displays inside of this store were kind of clever, like this rather beleaguered-looking bunch of Berts.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as 8 p.m. approached, it was time once more to brave the cold. Head back outside and then chose a primo spot along the boulevard ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... for it was just about time for Sesame Place's Neighborhood Street Party Christmas Parade to begin.

Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, given that this is a very kid-friendly theme park, Sesame Place's Neighborhood Street Parade was a very kid-friendly parade. Which made lots of stops along the way so that children could then come off the sidewalk and interact with their favorite Sesame Street characters like Abby Cadabby, ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... Big Bird & Barkley.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as the last float full of characters rolled backstage ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

... Big Bird came on the park-wide PA system to say that it was 'way past his bed-time, which is why it was now time for everyone to exit Sesame Place. He was then followed by Oscar, who said "You heard the turkey. Now scram!"

So after taking one last photo in front of the "A Very Furry Christmas" photo spot ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... and then taking a moment to "Ooh" & "Aah" at Sesame Place's 1-2-3 Christmas Tree ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

... it was then time to head for home and then dream about all the fun that these folks will have in 2014 when Cookie's Monster Land opens at Sesame Place.

Copyright SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment / Sesame Workshop.
All rights reserved

Mind you, if you're not willing to wait 'til May for your next Sesame Place fix, "A Very Furry Christmas" will be presented on selected nights now through December 31st.

Oh, one final thing: I have to admit that it was kind of ironic to see the Sesame Street portion of this theme park all lit up with colored lights ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

... Given that -- if Michael Eisner had had his way back in the late 1980s / early 1990s and then persuaded Jim Henson to sell his share of the Sesame Street Muppets to The Walt Disney Company ... Well, what Eisner had wanted to do was transform Disney's Hollywood Studios' Streets of America into the theme park equivalent of Sesame Street. So that this second Muppet-themed area could then be located right next door to Muppet Studios.

And given that (at least for now, anyway) this portion of DHS is home to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... this corner of Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park probably looks an awfully lot like it would have (i.e., an urban environment all lit up with holiday decorations) if Michael had only be able to get Jim to sell his half of the Sesame Street Muppets to Disney.

Your thoughts?

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  • I'm glad that the Sesame Street characters are not owned by Disney. They deserve to live on forever on public television.

    Thanks Jim for reminding people that not every attraction has to be a huge thrill ride to be entertaining.

    On a related note, I'm looking forward to Muppets Most Wanted. It's good to see the Muppet Show characters in the limelight again.

  • We took our 4 year old on Sunday 11/24.... other than being REALLY cold, he had a great time. To put a Disney spin on it, we got to see the Imagination Movers in concert. It was a great intimate show with one of the Movers (Scott) taking some time to perform right next to my son and letting him 'play' his guitar as well! Because of the weather, we didn't stay too long, so it's good for us the tickets include a 2nd visit, so we can go another weekend (if we get a warm spell).

  • In somewhat defense of Eisner...it's Sesame Street! You're buying the company that owns the Sesame Street Muppets, but they don't want to include Sesame! I mean, I get it. But I also get Jim's position that Sesame's kind of a "holy place"--an educational show produced by a separate nonprofit org. for public TV--and he doesn't want them mixed up with Disney, as awesome as he thought Disney would be for the rest of his characters.

    My question is, among many others regarding Disney, Henson & CTW and their corporate happenings, how come Disney wouldn't get the Sesame Street Muppets, but EM.TV (Henson's former German parent) did? In 1990, Jim wanted his stake in Sesame to not be included in the Disney deal, but in 2000, the Henson kids were more than happy to bundle Elmo along with Kermit, Farscape, and everything else and send them off to Munich?

    And one thing that's always confused me. You said Jim didn't want to sell his "half" of Sesame to Disney. It's my understanding that Jim Henson (and/or the Henson Company, if there's a difference) owned the rights to the Sesame Muppets, but merchandising revenue to those characters were split between Henson and CTW. Thus EM.TV, in late 2000, selling the complete rights to those characters to Sesame Workshop when they were nearing collapse. (I'd seriously love to know what the Hensons thought about that, good or bad.) I wish the recent Henson bio got into this corporate stuff more, although I completely understand why because it's a biography of Mr. Jim Henson, not the corporate history of The Jim Henson Company, especially post-Jim. I just wonder if in Brian Jay Jones' research, he got any more insight into Henson's corporate dealings, especially from 2000-2004, a tumultuous period.

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