Road to the Ride: The Muppets Courtyard That Almost Was

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Have you ever noticed that Pizza Planet (now PizzeRizzo) looks a lot like MuppetVision 3-D and not like the Pizza Planet from “Toy Story”? It was actually supposed to to be the Swedish Chef’s Cooking School, a restaurant based on the Muppets’ famous bumbling chef. Muppets and Disney have had a long history. Lets take a look at the tumultuous relationship between Michael Eisner and the Hensons.

Eisner and Henson

Rumors were spreading all the way back at the time of Henson’s death in 1990 that Eisner was planning to acquire the Muppets. Henson had long said that he admired Walt Disney. He trusted the Disney company with his work more than any other company.

In fact, Eisner and Henson had already been working together in the Disney Parks. The Muppet themed land was well underway. MuppetVision 3-D was being built. It opened in 1991 after Frank Oz finished up the pre-show following Henson’s death. The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor was built along with the Swedish Chef’s restaurant. And plans were underway for The Great Muppet Movie Ride, a parody of The Great Movie Ride. The ride would have the Muppets acting out the famous scenes of classic movies and Disney movies.

Muppets Courtyard at Disney's Hollywood Studios is No More, Grand Avenue Taking Over


The Great Muppet Battle

Unfortunately for Eisner, the rest of the Henson family did not agree with Henson’s trust in Eisner. They bought back The Jim Henson Co. from EM.TV and Merchandising, a now-bankrupt German company, in 2003. Just months prior, Eisner was claiming that Disney was finalizing a deal to buy the company.

It didn’t take long for Disney to rally back. By early 2004, Disney had bought the Muppets. For an undisclosed sum, the Henson family sold all of the major Muppets to Disney, as well as the “Bear and the Big Blue House” characters. The “Sesame Street” characters are owned by a different company and therefore not up for sale.

Additionally, Disney did not get Jim Henson’s “Creature Shop,” which designed the puppets. They also did not acquire “Fraggle Rock,” “Farscape,” or any other lesser known media by the Henson company. Mainly, Disney was interested in the characters that are most marketable to children and family, meaning the Muppets.

After the acquisition, Lisa Henson, Jim Henson’s daughter, released a press release saying that her father had been in talks with the Disney company for them to get the Muppets after his passing in 1990. She claimed that the family trusted Disney to continue the work of her father.

The Forgotten Muppets

Unfortunately for Muppets fans, it wasn’t long after Disney acquired the Muppets that Eisner left Disney. Without Eisner’s drive to expand Muppet Courtyard, Disney decided to go in a different direction.  The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor turned into Mama Melrose. The Swedish Chef was replaced by the “Toy Story” aliens. The Great Muppet Movie Ride never came to be.

Today, MuppetVision 3-D is still standing strong, at least on the east coast. Frank Oz’s pre-show unfortunately disappeared in 2014 to advertise “Muppets Most Wanted.” Thankfully, as of 2016, Kermit’s evil lookalike has hopped away and we can now watch the real pre-show again in peace.

The Muppets Present...Great Moments in American History

Where They Are Now

With Muppets Courtyard making room for Grand Avenue, the Muppets are no longer just hanging out in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Nowadays, they can be found giving history lessons every day in Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom. The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History teach the story of Paul Revere and the Declaration of Independence in their own slightly incorrect but ultimately fun way.

The Muppets Mobile Lab, a live show with Professor Honeydew and Beaker showing off their latest contraption, was developed for Disney’s California Adventure. As of 2007, it hopped over to EPCOT, before heading to Hong Kong Disneyland until 2013. Starting in 2016, it was back in EPCOT for what was supposed to be a four week engagement. But in 2018, you can still see the “scientists” struggling to keep their lab in check, if you’re lucky!

Do you think that the Henson family made the right deal or should the Muppets have stayed separate? Let us know in the comments!

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