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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Muppets vs. Puppets By Nicholas Napoli

In my last article (One Frog, One Voice) I stated that I had nothing else to contribute for MuppetsHenson and that I was no longer a Muppet Fan and I still stand by that but that’s not to say I will not continue to support past Muppets, Steve Whitmire, Kermit the Frog and for the beliefs I learned through Jim Henson’s Productions. I believe we as Muppet Fans have learned of Jim Henson’s vision simply by watching and listening to what Kermit the Frog and The Muppets have always done, said and sang before his passing. Words I doubt Jim Henson would have spoken had he not believed in what he was letting Kermit share with the world through him. Jim Henson is a creative genius, would a creative genius not hope to find a way to leave his thoughts and beliefs behind for the world to continue believing in even after he had passed away? What better way to do this than to leave a forever living puppet that could do just this, provide his message, his voice, his belief for years to come even when he was not around to physically do so himself. This is why having the performer be true to Jim Henson’s beliefs and not any random writing team available at the time is very important, the same goes for all other major Muppets and secondary characters. Please watch Kermit the Frog singing The Rainbow Connection as performed by Jim Henson in The Muppet Movie (1979). 

The legacy, the icon, the image, the face, the recognisability worldwide is Kermit the Frog, Jim Henson left something special to continue sharing his beliefs through even when he was not here to do so himself.

Whoever controls the puppet can change what Kermit says and voices and by doing that, if not the right person, it is not true to the spirit of Jim Henson, one is basically insulting Jim by having Kermit’s word not be meaningful and simply fed out of money which indirectly also tarnishes Jim Henson’s Kermit from past productions. In my opinion if Kermit is ruined in 2017 his powerful image before Jim Henson’s passing loses credibility because it will not hold true to what Kermit himself has become, if the preacher can’t follow his own beliefs then why should his following fans believe in him, not in Kermit, in Jim Henson. Please watch Steve’s Whitmire’s Kermit accompanied by Gonzo singing Everyone Matters as performed in It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002). 

If an actor portraying a role on a television show or movie franchise is asked by the producer/director/writers/management to do something which the performer thinks is also out of character and might ruin their integrity, their image, they will stand up for both of them. Not just the Character they portray but the Actor/Person themselves, as they do not want to have their face attached when portrayed as an idiot or a horny green toad interested in piglets. In this case the acting Performers thoughts are taken into consideration because it will be hard to replace them with the same character they portray on screen. Sometimes the character is killed off, moves away, has a piano dropped on them, replaced by a random new relative or they simply recast the actor and hope it goes unnoticed and that those who realise it will simply accept it. The thing is these real acting Performers will eventually pass away, their legacy, the integrity they thought for will always be remembered and along with them in death they will no longer have to worry about their image being used for what they did not intend. These iconic stars of film and television will not be able to continue to inspire in the present or the future with their values or believes once they’re gone besides the inspiration they’ve left behind for us in the past. Sadly in many years to come once a person is no longer currently in the public eye they are not forgotten but slowly  become simply a memory of the past, history for future generations to study. 

Universally loved characters such as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, Gobo Fraggle, Hoggle, Aughra, Robbie Sinclair, Yoda, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Homer Simpson, Fred Flintstone, Eric Cartman, Stewie Griffin, Pinocchio and even Beaker don’t have that disadvantage. That is why as silly as it might sound these iconic characters will be able to continue sharing their voice and face with future generations to come, they will outlast all of us, it is important they always share the same belief and values as their creators, this way their spirit will always live on and if they’ve achieved in creating an iconic everlasting character the whole world can appreciate then they deserve that respect. Unfortunately unlike Human icons throughout film and television history these forever lasting iconic role models can’t stand up for themselves, they can’t decide what it is they want their followers, their fans to believe. The voice actors are usually the most passionate when it comes to defending the integrity of their cartoon characters but when it comes to The Muppets it’s not just about defending the voice, what the character says but also the performance itself. 

In the case of puppet/animated characters/icons this does not apply, these “performers” cannot stand up for their integrity, if the ones in charge feel like it they can make the character appear to viewers however they wish and those character e.g. Mickey Mouse/Bugs Bunny/Homer Simpson cannot do anything about that. This is what is unique about The Muppets, these are fictional characters who if they wish can actually keep the integrity to their legacy as a real human performer (actor) would if they found themselves in the same situation. Then unlike Animated Character the actual Muppets can also appear at live public events, they have best of both worlds, The Muppets have so much value besides modern entertainment. 

In 2009 the world was introduced to Kermit the Frog 2, in business it makes sense, having a Kermit 2 means more appearances, more money. Kermit 2 was performed on three separate occasions by Artie Esposito. Kermit 2 debuted alongside Miss Piggy and a choir of Chickens on America’s Got Talent and this was the result... 

I can’t speak for all fans but I sure noticed that wasn’t the real Kermit the Frog, if you click on the following link it will direct you to another performance by Kermit 2 during the 2009 MTV Live Music Awards. 

At this point I was worried Kermit 3, Kermit 4 and Kermit 5 were soon going to start appearing and even believed Lady Gaga would be asked to perform Kermit 6 since apparently as Fans we’re not clever enough to notice the difference. The Walt Disney Company gives me the impression that performing and imitating Kermit the Frog isn’t that hard. Anybody can get a realistic Kermit puppet, practise the voice and make YouTube videos which they can hopefully use for their advantage.

Not being a Muppet Fan any longer does not mean I won’t appreciate everything they’ve produced in the past but at present time The Muppets I met in ABC The Muppets (2015) are no longer The Muppets I grew up with. I don’t support the way the franchise is heading, they might look like Muppets but to me they’re not The Muppets anymore, I’m not just a fan of the character design, had that been the reason I would have outgrown The Muppets long ago. There are few Muppets Fans scattered amongst the world wide web, nobody ever listens to us, we’re always talking about toys, movies, Kermit’s personality, Jim Henson’s vision, how to escape the Labyrinth, the power of the Dark Crystal, we usually go unnoticed by the rest of the world. Which is fine, I for one like living in our little Muppet bubble where we dance our cares away, leave our worries for another day, let the music play, online at the Muppet forums. Finally The Muppets bring attention from those outside our bubble, those who are even more confused than us. These people are now secretly visiting us to see what Muppet Fans think of all this, so that they can make up their own minds based on what The Walt Disney Company, The Jim Henson Company, The Muppet Studios, Muppet Fans and Steve Whitmire are debating about. 

Fans had speculated for months over why Kermit or other Steve Whitmire characters had not been making appearance throughout the last nine months, luckily another Muppet fan site contacted The Walt Disney Company on behalf of Muppets Fans all over the world and were the first to break the news that Steve Whitmire had move on from The Muppets, which caught media attention worldwide. Steve Whitmire in return spoke out, he had remained nine months silent hoping to return as Kermit but now that news broke I for one believed Steve had abandoned The Muppets. I would have hated that because it would have ruined Kermit’s last twenty-seven years if that were the case, luckily Steve Whitmire spoke out and shared his side of the story to ease our minds and was quickly attacked for it. If you click on the following link it will direct you to Steve Whitmire’s interview on The Morning Show on July 26th 2017 dumped-as-the-voice-of-kermit/#page1. Steve Whitmire continues to speak out and as long as he does I will continue to listen and support him. 

Last week The Walt Disney Company and The Muppet Studios (after probably receiving permission from The Jim Henson Company) did not release their “Muppets Thoughts Of The Week” as intended. Now we could make this out to look like The Walt Disney Company are weaklings who were scared when fans voiced their opinions and are waiting for the drama to die down before releasing the new Kermit video and hoping this time we’ll accept it. This opinion comes from comments I have read online, if this is true and I were The Walt Disney Company to show I was not weak I would release the new Kermit right now online and shut everyone up. I don’t think this is the case, I think instead of continuing to bash The Walt Disney Company for not releasing this week’s Muppets Thoughts Of The Week we should give them the benefit of the doubt. We might consider that the integrity of Kermit is what is of most importance to them and because of that they respect what fans think, they are not scared of the noise we’ve made, they’ve respected it and have at least considered to postpone the release of Kermit’s first new debut, for that I think they deserve credit not hatred. I’m sure the video will be posted eventually but the fact that it has not been posted yet in my opinion is respectful because angered fans are angered followers of Jim Henson and when purchasing The Muppets that was not their intention, I would hope.

I could have written the above in both ways, one that made The Walt Disney Company look good or bad, had I just posted one version subconsciously I’d be making you think with your brain and not with your heart, this is why I think it is always important to provide both sides, both opinions, all options. This way the reader can decide which one to choose rather than easily accept what they read and not use their time to consider the other options for themselves. This reminds me of last week’s interview Steve Whitmire provided for Inside Edition. When I heard this interview for a second I wasn’t sure who was actually fighting for Kermit the Frog, Steve had been painted as a Kermit-Obsessed-Crazy-Frog by The Walt Disney Company and by saying “I am Kermit and Kermit is Me” I felt Steve Whitmire might have been a bit at fault here. I wasn’t the only one who felt like this, across the message boards I realized this was a big moment when Steve Whitmire lost a lot of fans and followers. Then I stopped listing to what was being said, sat on my balcony and listened to what I thought of this and I realized he had obviously been asked a question, it’s an interview, what was the question? Is Kermit Jim? That would have been the wrong answer to give Steve, I would have lost respect for you there had that been the question. Maybe he was asked “are you Kermit?” if so they are leading him into having to say something along the lines of what he said which if that was the question actually makes it a very responsible answer. For those interested in listening again the same interview is still available online but unless we all missed it before the question is now asked before Steve Whitmire answers. 

The Jim Henson Company unfortunately got in the middle of this and I will not go back in saying that the way they spoke of Steve Whitmire broke my heart. I’m not bashing their opinions but doing it the way they did make me feel sad for being inspired by Kermit all these years even after Jim Henson’s death when his children didn’t even believe this was the proper portrayal. I am grateful to see they are no longer getting involved in this terrible mess, this is between Kermit the Frog and The Walt Disney Company not between Steve Whitmire and The Jim Henson Company. They are making sure to try and keep attention focused on the new Jim Henson’s Museum Of The Moving Image Exhibition not fuelling the Kermit the Frog and Steve Whitmire situation. As a Fan I want them to help Steve but at the same time not having control over The Muppets for thirteen years I understand they really have no power to help but they do have the power not to make things harder/confusing not just for Kermit and Steve but for Fans. Allow those who wish to support Steve to do so without feeling that we are disrespecting The Jim Henson Company by doing so. If you think of Jim Henson’s life it’s interesting enough to be made into a movie, there have been many documentaries but never a movie. There was a brilliant book written in 2013 by Brian Jay Jones titled “Jim Henson The Biography” a book I would love to see translated into film. 

What most sadness me here is how important A Muppet Family Christmas has now become, it helped me realize there was a connection between The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street, the main connection was Jim Henson. The thing is if Jim Henson ever wanted to write a book about his philosophy in life on how he tried to change the world for the better, in order to do this he needs to talk about all these properties including others such as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Time Piece. My focus is on The Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock because these three need to have a connection to each other, even if owned by different companies, so that those who truly want to learn from Jim Henson know what to look for, where to find it, what is connected, Jim Henson’s real Labyrinth is made up on many productions not just one movie. I’m a huge Fan of Dinosaurs but ever since Season 1, Episode 5 “Howling Day” after Roy almost tries to eat Gunge I realized there was also a connection here too. Yes the same puppet was simply used for production reasons but in my eyes this meant the world in which these modern aged Dinosaurs lived was not our past but rather another part of Jim Henson’s universe, probably located by entering through Fraggle Rock and exploring further beyond the Gorgs garden.


At this moment if I were to give the simplest answer I can think of to showcase this would be for The Jim Henson Company, Sesame Workshop and The Walt Disney Company to combine and jointly release A Jim Henson Tribute Special Collection. A Muppet Family Christmas, The Muppets A Celebration of Thirty Years, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, The Muppets At Walt Disney World, Henson’s Place amongst other specials combined into one Fan Collectors DVD Set with lots of special features including one highlighting the difficulty and magic it has taken to keep Jim Henson’s vision of The Muppets especially Kermit alive for the last twenty-seven years. That must have been difficult to accomplish, I as a fan would be very eager to know how that effort was put together. 

Is there still a way to fix this? I wish there were, the easier way to continue to be happy is to find a way to accept this and move on, as long as Kermit is still green and not changed to red I’m fine with that, that’s a good and easy way to live life, wish I knew how to master that skill. On the other hand although many Fans are not supporting Steve the fact that there are few trolls online means Steve has a huge amount of followers, the only thing is the ones who think with common sense are also the quiet ones. The loud ones, the ones who don’t care and just want to stir trouble, these are the most vocal. As a Muppet Fan I would hope that The Walt Disney Company would have listened to our concerns, I’m sure they could care less about Steve Whitmire making noise but the Muppet Money generally comes from the fan base, so our happiness is important to them. I hope that having heard our concerns and knowing that Steve Whitmire is willing to return, forgive and accept the circumstances that The Walt Disney Company will allow him to return as Kermit The Frog. The backstage drama is not up for Fans to fix, that comes from a business standpoint but in my opinion finding the perfect writers will save everything. The Muppets will have a story to tell, one that will make money, one where Kermit will act like Kermit therefor Steve will have no concerns to voice, not that voicing them is wrong but perhaps if he is listened to he would not have to continue trying to be heard every chance he gets. Even after Jim Henson’s passing I feel like those in charge of The Muppets Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island got it right, give us Muppet Treasure Island 2: Return of Long John-Jack Sparrow and everything will be fine. 

Perhaps as Muppet Fans we could starts a Kickstarter Campaign to raise enough money to hire Frank Oz to direct and overlook the next Muppet production but only with Steve Whitmire performing as Kermit the Frog. I never thought I would be writing an article suggesting fans raise money for The Walt Disney Company but if it helps The Muppets in anyway I’ll even open a lemonade stand outside my house and do my part.

Just for fun let’s watch the last few Muppet productions in reverse and remember Walter represents Muppet Fans...

1 comment:

  1. If listening to what Jim Henson's own family think of Steve should be enough for anyone