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Thursday Treasures

November 24, 2011

Thursday Treasures Muppet Week Special: The Muppets at Walt Disney World

If there's one thing I like more than anything else in life (Well, OK, there are several...) is when my passions cross paths in order to create something truly special and unique. As a toddler, I was introduced to Disney animation, and I have been a fan since. Just watching the lush artistry of Sleeping Beauty, the cuteness of Dumbo and the surreal nature of Alice in Wonderland inspired me in such a way that it made me the imaginative adult I am today. On the other side of the spectrum are the Muppets. But unlike Disney (which I quickly warmed up to upon my first viewing) they actually terrified me! The first Muppet movie I saw as a kid on home video was The Muppets Take Manhattan. The sight of Kermit the Frog scared me so badly that I ran away crying and screaming from the house and into the other side of the street! I had never seen a puppet before, so the sight of one nearly traumatized me as a child. But as my parents slowly introduced me other Muppets productions, I quickly warmed up to them, and before I knew it, The Muppets Take Manhattan went from being the worst 'horror' movie I had ever seen to becoming my all-time favorite Muppet film.

Once I got over my Muppet-fueled fears, anything Muppet related would appeal to me in such a way that I HAD to watch them. Muppet Babies, A Muppet Family Christmas, Sesame Street, pretty much anything that featured the Jim Henson name was a guaranteed hit for me... even Labyrinth, the epic fantasy film starring David Bowie. But, where am I getting at with all of this, exactly? Well, my two passions as a kid, Disney and Muppets, did eventually cross paths and created a really fun, one of a kind TV special: The Muppets at Walt Disney World.

Growing up, I had a somewhat basic knowledge of what Walt Disney World was, all thanks to various television specials that either took place at Walt Disney World or told the story of the theme park's inception. So when I heard that the Muppets would be going to Walt Disney World in a special I was more than excited. Best of all, the special aired on a holiday, so I could stay at home and watch it live!

The basic story behind The Muppets at Walt Disney World is that Kermit and the gang are visiting relatives at the Florida swamps when they learn that Walt Disney World is right next to them. In typical Muppet fashion, they sneak in and create havoc throughout the various parks, while a security guard (played by Charles Grodin) would try to capture them. Some would accuse this special as trying to sell a Walt Disney World vacation to the viewers, but I never saw it that way. In fact, the Muppets are poking fun at the park in a very affectionate manner. Miss Piggy is forced to ride the thrill rides (such as the original version of Star Tours), much to her extreme discomfort, Rowlf gets stuck in the pet care facility and Gonzo mistakes the laundry services as an attraction. But easily the best is Animal chasing Snow White around while yelling 'SNOW WHITE! SNOW WHITE! AAAHH!' The special does a good job of showing us the wonders of the park while never feeling like it is charming its way onto our wallets.

The most important scene in the whole special, though, is when Kermit and friends get to meet Mickey Mouse. Actually, Kermit has met Mickey before as they are both members of FASA (Fictional Animal Stars of America). There, Kermit introduces the Muppet gang to Mickey, and are asked to leave their names, hand and foot prints at the Mann's Chinese Theater at Disney's MGM Studios (now known as Disney Hollywood Studios). Right before the scene happens, Mickey and Kermit exchange philosophies (Mickey's 'When you wish upon a star' and Kermit's 'The Rainbow Connection'), and Mickey welcomes them to the Disney family.

Now, this is a very important scene as at the time Disney was working with Jim Henson in order to acquire the Muppets license and merge. While several things came out of the early initiative (such as Muppet Vision 3-D, two theatrical Muppet films and Muppets Tonight on ABC) the death of Jim Henson in the early 90s prevented the deal to be fully completed, limiting the creative efforts that would have been born out of such an ambitious deal. This special represents the potential that such a creative partnership would have yielded had it not been for Henson's passing.

Flash forward to 2004, and Disney has already obtained the Muppet license. Since then, we have seen the first three Muppets films under the Disney banner (as well as the two Disney produced films) released on DVD, several hilarious internet videos starring the Muppets, Jim Henson inducted as a Disney Legend, and, the biggest one of all, the premiere of Disney's The Muppets this week. It took them a long time to do it, but it seems that the potential once presented in this television special is finally going to become a reality.

Now if only we could get a sequel to this special featuring Walter...


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