Are the Muppets Still Relevant?
I was reading through an article about how Disney World might jettison its Muppet 3-D Theatre from its Hollywood Studios park (this alone broke my heart), and the piece was accompanied by a string of comments debating the relevancy of the Muppets, not just in the parks, but as a part of our culture in general. It had never occurred to me that the Muppets would ever go out of fashion, that what I had always considered timeless did come with an expiration date. This led me to my own internal discussion “Are the Muppets still relevant?”
I grew up in the age of the Muppets. The Muppet Show played on television right after dinner, before I went to bed. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, Gonzo, Scooter, Rolf, Bunson & Beaker, Sam Eagle, Stater & Waldorf, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem were the last things I’d see before I turned on my Mickey Mouse nightlight, and crawled under the covers to get some sleep for my day in First Grade. Of course, there was a series of Muppet movies that kept them ever present, even after the show was cancelled: The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island kept the franchise front-and-center for at least two-decades. There were Muppet holiday specials throughout the 1980s, and of course we had the Saturday morning cartoon Muppet Babies which was also an enormous success.
Disney must have found the Muppets to be a property worthy of longevity or they never would have fashioned an attraction at the (then) Disney/MGM Studios, a 3-D movie adventure for our favorite band of lunatic characters. Obviously, Disney evolves its parks and attractions disappear (I’m still mourning Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), so we know that nothing is sacred. Could what people are saying, that “The Muppets are irrelevant,” be the impetus for Disney to end Muppet 3-D’s run at the Hollywood Studios park? With all the renovations currently going on in that park, from the addition to lands devoted to Star Wars and Toy Story, plus an urgency to turn what was essentially a half-day park into a full-day park, it would seem as though Disney would want to keep this attraction alive or at least revamp it with a new film, maintaining some of the park favorites while growing new ones to achieve a full-day’s-worth of entertainment.
That would be dandy, but we still haven’t answered the question of whether-or-not the Muppets are still relevant. Without their relevancy, the attraction doesn’t mean anything to new generations and the purpose of the attraction within the park becomes null and void. I wonder, however, if they are indeed still relevant? Disney produced two reasonably successful Muppet films in the last decade. That, to me, is an admission and demonstration that Disney and movie-going audiences still care about them. That certainly makes them more relevant than, say, Avatar, which Disney has poured money into creating an attraction around in Animal Kingdom. There is nothing wrong with Avatar, but that’s based on a film that isn’t even a Disney holding AND, despite promised sequels, hasn’t had one yet in the eight-years the film debuted. The question here is: “Is Avatar still relevant?”. It appears that the Muppets have demonstrated their durability far better than Avatar.
Yes, the recent Muppet TV series on ABC folded quickly, but I argue that it was a misguided project that never actually captured the right tone. The Muppets were always about innocent lunacy, a craziness that spoke to all generations, young and old. It was playful, sometimes brutal, and always a bit tongue-in-cheek with its offbeat humor. It was sophisticated cacophony, intellectual tomfoolery. Does that ever really go out of style?