LISTEN: Muppets Minute Podcast – The Muppets at Walt Disney World TV Special

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We break from our Muppets by Minute format to discuss The Muppets at Walt Disney World in detail with special guest Tom Corless from WDW News Today. The Muppets at Walt Disney World was a 1990 TV special that aired on NBC to promote the merger between the Jim Henson Company and the Walt Disney Company. This special is a wonderfully written Muppet movie and a delightful snapshot of the Walt Disney World resort in the late 80’s, early 90’s. We take you through the history of the merger as well as scene by scene through the Muppet’s wacky adventures at the Vacation Kingdom of the World!

The Muppets Minute podcast is a daily podcast that discusses each Muppet movie mahna by mahna… I mean, minute by minute. Last year we took you through the 1979 film The Muppet Movie. On October 1st we launch into Season 2 as we celebrate the 1981 film The Great Muppet Caper. Get caught up on past episodes on iTunes and Stitcher. You can also listen and discover all our research, notes, photos and links for every episode at MuppetsMinute.com.

Muppets-at-WDW-Featured-Image_910x512.jpg

NOTES AND RESEARCH

The Muppets at Walt Disney World

Aired on NBC

May 6, 1990

The Muppets pack into the Skyway for a Muppets at WDW promo shot. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

(***Note – RetroWDW.com did a wonderful job locating “a relatively clean copy of the special and decided to improve it bit by removing the interlacing, repair the chroma and colors.” Without their hard work, we would have had to watch a really poor quality video. We have linked to their video at the end of this article.***)

BACKGROUND ON DISNEY AND THE MUPPETS

In 1989, the company entered merger negotiations with The Walt Disney Company, but the deal fell through following Jim Henson’s unexpected death in 1990.

Following Henson’s death, the company was taken over by Henson’s children.

In 2000 Henson was sold to EM.TV & Merchandising AG, a German media company, but by the end of that year, EM.TV’s stock collapsed, and the company was sold back to the Henson family in 2003.

In 2004, the Jim Henson Company sold the rights to The Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House characters to the Walt Disney Company.

Eisner, Henson and The Muppets at the official in-park announcement of the Muppets acquisition deal. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

“Disney Buys Muppets” EW article from 2/18/04

http://ew.com/article/2004/02/18/disney-buys-muppets/

Breakdown: What Disney Owns

  • Disney now owns all Muppet-related trademarks, including the word “Muppet” (though Sesame Workshop still has permission to use the term for its Sesame Street characters through a license from Disney).
  • The Muppets – Disney: Kermit piggy, all of those characters are now owned by Disney
  • Sesame Street – Sesame Workshop: Big Bird, Ernie Bert, Elmo are all owned by sesame workshop
  • Jim Henson Company – Fraggle Rock, Dark Crystal, Labrynth, Sid the science kid. Have always been owned by the Jim Henson Company
Article announcing The Muppets are coming to MGM Studios. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

“Kermit vs Mickey Mouse” Newsweek article from 4/28/91

https://www.newsweek.com/kermit-vs-mickey-mouse-202356

Henson Associates filed an invective-filled lawsuit that charged Disney with infringing on the trademark and copyrights that protect its Muppet characters. It asked a federal court in New York to halt a Muppet 3-D movie scheduled to begin showing next month at Walt Disney World in Florida. Among other niceties, Henson’s suit accused Disney of “sheer corporate arrogance…… corporate greed” and running “roughshod” over the Muppets. For its part, Disney said the suit contained an “enormous distortion of the facts” and painted the Henson heirs as balky children going back on on their famous father’s wishes.

Henson/Katzenberg meeting

Henson/Eisner friendship

The two sides signed a letter of intent to give Disney use of the Muppet characters in its theme parks, television and movies.

Jim Henson sketched an image representing the merger with Disney

Without a formal merger or licensing agreement, Henson plunged into projects with Disney. He built some “walk around” Muppet characters for Florida’s Disney World that would appear on stage shows. He also began working on a new blockbuster movie for Disney World, “Kermit the Frog Presents Muppetvision 3-D.”

Jim Henson rides down Hollywood Blvd. at MGM Studios in a motorcade

But there’s another twist to this story. Disney and Henson are working together–more or less amicably–on the new TV show “Dinosaurs,” which debuts this Friday.

Promo photo for The Muppets at MGM Studios. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Muppet Movieland

In the Disney-MGM Studios, Imagineers began to work on plans for Muppet Movieland. This new area of the park would have featured two main attractions, The Great Muppet Movie Ride and a 3D film attraction.

The area was meant to be opened by 1991 and signs were even put up showing the future location of the studio.

Muppet Movieland concept art. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

The Great Muppet Movie Ride

Describing it, Henson said that it would be “a backstage ride explaining how movies are shot…but all the information is wrong.”

The experience would be hosted inside a shadowy castle, complete with special effects such as buzing generators and scientific machines. Riders would board enormous vehicles similar to those used in the Great Movie Ride for their tour. Disney’s Imagineers planned to spend a fortune on the attraction, making it the number one ride at Disney-MGM Studios.

One of the key scenes would see Kermit, Miss Piggy, Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker starring in a parody of the 1931 movie Frankenstein. Gonzo would direct, with a 10-foot Beaker starring as Frankenstein’s monster. The whole affair would be powered by two rats running in a hamster wheel.

Concept art of the Frankenstein scene in Muppet Movie Ride. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Peter Pan would also undergo the parody treatment, with Kermit taking the lead role. Skeeter, Fozzie and Janice (playing the Darling children) would fly over a recreation of London, carried by very obvious harnesses. Miss Piggy, playing Tinkerbell, would crash through the backdrop.

Another scene, based on the Pigs in Space sketch in The Muppets Show, would be set in a recreation of the bridge of the USS Swinetrek. Miss Piggy would lead the fight against a group of “space pirates”.

Concept art of the space scene in Muppet Movie Ride. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Just as Statler and Waldorf provide a running commentary on Muppet*Vision 3-D, they would ride around the Great Muppet Movie Ride in a golf cart, discussing it as they went.

MuppetVision 3D

On May 19, 1991 a confidential settlement was reached between the two parties. As part of the agreement, Disney was allowed to continue their development of the 3D Muppet attraction, and they were given merchandising rights for 18 months.

MuppetVision 3D concept art. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

THE MUPPETS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

TV airing advertisement for The Muppets at Walt Disney World

The Magical World of Disney

  • Disneyland; Main Street Electrical Parade
  • Tokyo Disneyland
  • Tink takes us to Florida
  • Epcot, MGM Studios, Streets of NY where we zoom into a window and see Mickey Mouse as video Editor
  • Roger Rabbit!
Opening titles

Grand Floridian Beach Resort

  • 1988
  • Michael Eisner Host
  • Fozzie and his mom are there
  • Gonzo, Luncheon Counter Monster, Uncle Deadly and Tug Monster come in to ruffle Eisner up
  • “they’re here!” symbolic line of things to come
Micheal Eisner has breakfast with Fozzie and his mother

The Swamp

  • kermit, robin, floyd, janice, rowlf, link hogthrob (ready for the beach), bunsen, beaker, fozzie and mom, miss piggy, beauregard, gonzo and camilla, bean bunny
  • Nice feet shot of the trek through the swamp
  • Love the idea of starting on the feet of the puppets
  • Good individual character introductions

Bean Bunny

  • Bean Bunny first appeared in 1986 as the star of the TV special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.
  • In 1989, Bean joined the cast of The Jim Henson Hour
  • The Muppets at Walt Disney World (1990) and Muppet*Vision 3D (1991)
  • Hired to be cute

“Knee Deep”

  • Written by Mark Radice
  • Zack Brown has a song with the same title
  • Lyrics link

Opening shot at WDW:

  • Flyover the entrance to the Magic Kingdom
  • Fountain at Epcot
  • MGM Entrance
The Magic Kingdom
MGM Studios

Quentin Fitzwaller – MGM Studios Security Guard

Played by Charles Grodin

  • The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
  • Left Brain in Cranium Command (1989)
Charles Grodin playing The Left Brain in Epcot’s Cranium Command

Animal – breaks turnstile

Bean – Wants to go to IASW at MGM

Piggy and Beauregard – Heading to Chinese Theater

Rats – looking for Mickey (of course)

Kermit and Fitzwaller

  • left home without it credit card joke
  • mister kismet; two green gentleman
Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson perform Kermit and Robin

Bean and Scooter at Imagination fountains

  • So many fluorescent shirts!
Bean Bunny and Scooter at the Imagination Fountains

Bunsen and Beaker at Epcot

  • draws eyes on bucket

Gonzo and Camilla at Wonders of Life

  • “ocean thing”
  • Trash Can… used paper cup exhibit!!!!!! PERFECT
Gonzo and Camilla at the Wonders of Life

Mouseketter Bar costs $1.50

Fitzwaller sees a Rizzo at the hotdog stand

  • asks for help finding the kismet gang
  • Muppets… watch for the weird and unusual
  • Hot dog stands like that at this time?

Piggy and Beauregard… got off track quick… now at BTM… long walk from here

  • Nice BTM POV
  • Piggy hanging on for the ride is amazing!
Press photo of the Big Thunder Mountain ride. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Rowlf at WDW Pet Care Center

  • Where is this in real life?
  • Love the poster; needs to be in a yearly calendar
  • Topiaries!
Rowlf is caught at the Pet Center

Dog Catcher

Played by Jeffrey Breslauer

Actor, puppeteer, writer, and voice-over artist. Breslauer puppeteered in The Muppets Take Manhattan (operating an Irish setter) and The Muppets at Walt Disney World. Breslauer also played the on-camera role of the Walt Disney World Pet Care Center manager in The Muppets at Walt Disney World.

Breslauer played “The Dreamfinder” from EPCOT’s “Journey into Imagination” as a walk-around character, and manipulated the dragon “Figment”.

Former Epcot Dreamfinder Jeffrey Breslauer with a Dreamfinder cosplayer (photo from Epbot.com)

Fun note… In the most recent incarnation of the ride, Journey into Your Imagination, Figment is voiced by Muppeteer Dave Goelz.

Swedish Chef taco stand inside mexico

  • Hot sauces…. love his “No’s”
  • Blows bucket off and back on
  • One of Jim Henson’s final performances

Fozzie and Mom

  • Telling jokes in the hub for money

Waldorf and Statler on Main Street

  • Upset that they don’t have anything to complain about
  • “Close this dump down”

Gonzo and Camilla in the Utilidors

  • Grungy tunnel exhibit

Kermit and Robin on the Streets of NY

  • Fantastic view of them against the backdrop

OMNIBUS!!!!!

A Look Back: The Disneyland Omnibus Debuts in 1956 | Disney Parks …

Omnibus – D23

The Omnibus crosses the bridge
Electric Mayhem on the Omnibus

Electric Mayhem and Clifford

Clifford

Performed by Kevin Clash

  • Clash began building puppets at the age of ten
  • Sesame Street: Elmo (1985-2012)
  • Clash also worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, supplying the face and voice of Splinter.
  • On Dinosaurs, Clash starred as Baby Sinclair
  • Kevin won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series for his work as Elmo and Hoots the Owl on Sesame Street in 1990, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Clash released an autobiography titled My Life as a Furry Red Monster in the fall of 2006. The 2011 documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey chronicles Clash’s life as a puppeteer.

Clifford is the hip Muppet who first appeared in 1989 on The Jim Henson Hour before being selected to host Muppets Tonight in 1996.

  • On The Jim Henson Hour, Clifford was the bass player for the band Solid Foam.
  • May 4, 1990 – Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog, with Kevin Clash and Clifford appeared on Arsenio Hall to promote The Muppets at WDW. This was Jim Henson’s last public performance before his death less than two weeks later.
    • When asked by Arsenio Hall on why he joined the Muppets, Clifford stated it was either join them or Milli Vanilli.
    • Talked a lot about spanking

“Rockin’ All Around the World”

written by Mark Radice

Mark Radice

  • Mostly Sesame Street
  • Lots of Elmo
  • Some Jim Henson Hour
  • 4 Songs in this special

Music Video

  • Link to lyrics
  • Starts on a Stage Germany
  • china, france, morocco
  • Stage in canada
  • italy, japan, norway
  • stage at mexico
  • IASW Muppets! (from MuppetVision 3D)
    • little part of music
Electric Mayhem around the World Showcase

“Who’s Your Lady Friend?”

  • vintage music hall song, dating back to the days of vaudeville
  • Music by: Harry Fragson
  • Lyrics by: Worton David and Bert Lee
  • Date: 1914
  • Link to lyrics

Waldorf and Statler

  • trolly ride down main street
  • grandma having fun
Waldorf, Statler and Grandma

Fitzwaller and Rizzo at star tours!

  • On board star tours video

Kermit and Robin at Grand Floridian

  • Monorail station
  • Fitzwaller and Dwarfs found him
  • Robin hops on monorail

Fozzie in Frontierland

  • Liberty Belle ship
  • Waldorf and Statler heckle
Press Photo of Fozzie and his mother. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Pet Care Center

  • Robin outside
  • inside… Rowlf “live from the detention hall”

“I’m Doggin’ It”

written by Mark Radice

Link to Lyrics

Muppet dogs include: Baskerville the Hound, the cast of Dog City (Jim Henson Hour 1989), Sprocket from Fraggle Rock, Foo-Foo (Piggy’s dog) and Rufus from Hey! Cinderella.

Gonzo in utilidor

Fantasyland shot makes me reminisce

  • Dumbo
  • Tea Cups
  • Skyway
Early 90’s Fantasyland

Piggy on Tea Cups; more ride POV with her

Kermit walking down side castle path

  • A happy, bubbly and all alone Raven Symone happens by!!!
Raven saves the day. Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Raven Symone

  • Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman (b. 1985) became famous at the age of four as Olivia Kendall on The Cosby Show.
  • Disney Channel series That’s So Raven which ran from 2002 to 2006, and was a member of the Cheetah Girls. She also did the voice for Monique on Disney’s Kim Possible.
  • Raven’s Home spin off… currently in season 2.
  • In 1989, Raven-Symoné auditioned for a role in the Bill Cosby movie, Ghost Dad. At the age of three, she was considered too young for the role, but Cosby liked her so much that he found a role for her on his show, The Cosby Show, as his step-granddaughter Olivia. She made her debut in the premiere episode of the show’s sixth season, and remained until the series finale in 1992.
  • While she shared no scenes with the Muppets, Raven appeared in a Cosby Show episode that also featured the Jim Henson Hour characters.
  • Raven danced with Big Bird in a Sesame Street insert. (EKA: Episode 2780) in 1990

Kermit lamenting over his “mistake”

  • Raven tries to cheer him up and refocus him to chase his dreams
  • Kermit always seems to need this, but that’s why he is so relatable… we all do
Press photo of The Muppets and Raven. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

“Rainbow Connection”

  • Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher
  • Link to lyrics
  • Walk and Sing is impressive; think about the mechanics and her focus
  • Becomes a duet
  • Too Cute camera smile at end

Back to MGM

  • Fitz and Rizzo continue their missadventure
  • Link Hogthrob stops to ask about tee shirts
  • “That was a Muppet!”

Piggy and Beauregard

  • we have not been to space mountain or body wars! Nice name drop
  • Same prop pole keeps coming back! At least 3 times
Press photo of Piggy and Beauregard. Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Main Street

  • Snow White and Animal
  • Sparks form

Grodin and The Seven Dwarfs on parade down Hollywood Blvd.

  • Kermit in crowd points them off
  • Nice joke. Cool to get guest crowd extras in the scene
  • Girl behind him looks like a young Emma Watson
Emma Watson look alike

Fozzie still doing jokes

  • “Someday your prints will come”
  • Tough mullet family crowd
Mullets are cool

Country Bear Jamboree

  • Terrence and Wendell
  • Brer Bear
  • Bongo and Lulubelle (Fun and Fancy Free)
Bears gather in Frontierland
Do you call him Terrence or Shaker? Copyright Disney. All rights reserved

Gonzo and Camilla at WDW Laundry Services

  • “Walt Disney’s Laundryland”

“Love in a Laundromat”

written by Mark Radice

  • making out in a laundry basket
  • steam ironed?

Orville Redenbacher on the popcorn buckets

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Show

  • Animal chasing Snow White
  • Kermit
  • Electric Mayhem
  • Piggy and Beauregard (shortcut!?)

Stunt Show start…

  • Richard Hunt cameo in audience
Puppeteer Richard Hunt cameo (bottom right; red shirt)
  • Piggy – sturdy peasant women
  • Kermit – leading man… real tom selleck type (Tom Selleck auditioned for the role of Indiana Jones)
  • Gonzo and Camilla in sewer… magic of Disney
  • YES… Kermit as Indy is so fantastic. Great costume
  • The 80’s audience looks amazing
  • Kermit doing the stunts… worried that the stunt actors are ok
  • Piggy shoot from plane
    • nazi symbol still on plane at this point
The swastika was still on the airplane at this time

Kermit fights large German

  • Piggy takes care of it in the end; as she always does

Animal help… by tipping bucket of oil and starting explosion

  • Snow White seems crazy impressed
  • Animal’s charm is working on her

Fitzwaller catches them on stage

Outside the gates of MGM Studios

  • Fitzwaller rounds up the Muppets
  • Muppets so oblivious; as always; it’s great; they just do what they do
  • Fitzwaller calls Mickey
  • Kermit “Mickey and I are buddies”
  • FASA – Fictional Animal Stars of America

Mickey’s office

  • He’s a cartoon!
  • Love it… such a 90’s Mickey
  • Photo of Walt on wall; Mickey/Walt = Kermit/Henson
  • Dalmation on desk
  • Piggy’s grand entrance
    • Mickey certainly takes notice
    • Such a presence
    • Mention of his girlfriend Minnie
The Muppets gather in Mickey’s office
Mickey has a photo of Walt on his wall
Mickey reacts to Miss Piggy entering the room

Wayne Allwine

  • The official voice of Mickey Mouse since The New Mickey Mouse Club in the 1970s.
  • Allwine performed Mickey’s voice in the 1990 TV special The Muppets at Walt Disney World.
  • Mickey and Kermit also spoke via Picture Phone in the Here Come the Muppets stage show at Walt Disney World.
  • Muppet*Vision 3D
  • Allwine was married to Russi Taylor, who voiced Baby Gonzo on Muppet Babies and is the current voice of Minnie Mouse and they were named Disney Legends in 2008.
Wayne Allwine (Photo from D23.com)

Kermit and Mickey

  • Floyd: “Starting to argue philosophy”
    • When You Wish Upon a Star
    • Rainbow Connection

Mickey

  • Take them to the Chinese Theater
  • “Welcome to the Family”
  • This really was a wonderful introduction of the partnership and very meta

 

“We’re Not Gonna Stop”

Footprints in the cement

  • Kermit does it well
    • The actual footprints?
  • Gonzo fell in
  • Fozzie slipped

Animal ends up with Snow White!?

  • Good for them
  • Not going to judge

Montage of characters back around the places they visited at WDW

Song ends; Back in the swamp

  • Where is Miss Piggy?
  • Stuck in the wet cement!!!
    • Full body Piggy
    • Remote controlled?
  • Roll credits over piggy
Piggy left behind in the cement at the Chinese Theater

Notable Credits

Directed by – Peter Harris

  • Peter Harris directed about half of The Muppet Show episodes.
  • as well as many episodes of The Jim Henson Hour

Written by – Jerry Juhl

Jim Henson with Kermit during the Indiana Jones Stunt Show scene
Jim Henson with Kermit during filming of The Muppets at WDW
Jim Henson directing a scene with Bunsen and Beaker

RETROWDW.COM COPY OF THE MUPPETS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD

Watch their remastered video here

(These are mostly my thoughts and observations. I have occasionally added some of Annie’s thoughts after the recording. I have done my best to attribute info where needed. Many of the more common facts about the film and The Muppets are not directly attributed to any one source. It is not my intention to claim all of the above information as my own. If you find a place that needs attribution, please contact me with the source and I will be happy to add it.)

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About the author

Nick LoCicero

Nick LoCicero has almost 20 years experience in the media industry. He has worked on numerous Disney related media projects, most know at WDWNT for WDW News Tonight. He has been visiting Walt Disney World since 1982. After moving to Orlando in the late 90's he became a passholder, developed a fascination with the history of the vacation kingdom and has spent way too much money on park merchandise.

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