After a successful hipster reboot, a failed sequel, and a disastrous faux reality show, The Muppets could return to the audience that craves them the most.
Ever since Disney announced plans to launch their own streaming service (due in late 2019), we’ve mostly been speculating about what that means for franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now it appears that another IP has some big plans for this new platform.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Muppets are looking to invade the new service in some capacity. No details are given on what we can look forward to from the next chapter in the lives of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy, and the rest, but THR is calling whatever it is a “reboot.”
As if the iconic characters themselves could be rebooted. But will there be another new incarnation of something we’ve seen before? Something else that’s aimed at younger audiences as opposed to older fans? Disney is already reviving the ’80s cartoon Muppet Babies, with Jenny Slate as the voice of Miss Nanny, but that’s appropriately for Disney Junior and launches next month.
Disney purchased the Muppets franchise rights back in 2004, after which they attempted a massive restart for the characters with the successful 2011 film directed by James Bobin and starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams. Despite a positive critical and commercial response, Disney was unable to keep that train steaming. The 2014 evil Kermit caper Muppets Most Wanted barely made its budget back domestically and took a serious critical beating.
From there, Disney tried to place them back on television with ABC’s Office-inspired mock-reality series The Muppets, but our society just could not handle Kermit’s affair with Denise the Marketer. You love Miss Piggy or nobody, sir.
The question becomes, what do we want from The Muppets? There was an energy to Bobin’s eccentric take on the characters, injecting his Flight of the Concords sensibilities into Jim Henson’s socially minded equanimity. Children’s entertainment for the hipster set as an attempt to score Pixar dollars. Okay, kiddies, enjoy Gonzo’s goofy chicken antics while your folks giggle over Bobo’s cookie munchies. That’s always been there in the concept. Then you’d have Steve Martin’s insane banjo duel with The Muppet jug band, and nobody in the audience quite understands what’s happening.
What we don’t want is the nudge-nudge wink-wink snark of the recent ABC series.
Jenny Slate entering into the arena of the franchise gives the idea that Disney is still hip to grab adult interest. This is not unlike how Netflix’s new Magic School Bus snagged Kate McKinnon for Ms. Frizzle, or the inclusion of David Tennant, Danny Pudi, and Ben Schwartz in Disney’s revamped Duck Tales. My nieces and nephews care not for star power, but The Doctor’s presence certainly caught my interest in the latter series.
Nostalgia is a seductive beast. Preying on our love of childhood properties can feel manipulative and gross, and often I’m frustrated with how I fall into its trap (see every ticket I’ve purchased to a Michael Bay Transformers film). You want your children to love the things you loved when you were their age, and if you force your Blu-ray collection upon them the result can be catastrophic. “What’s a Blu-ray? I’m going to go outside and play some sports.” Yikes, we don’t want that.
The Muppets on Disney’s streaming service has the ability to return to its roots. You can bring back the variety show along with an endless sea of guest-hosts. You don’t have to worry about commercial interest, they’ve got the subscribers with their one-day fantasy of experiencing George Lucas’s unaltered Star Wars trilogy.
Disney can feed our nostalgia with its presumed streaming library of various classic films, or its planned remakes of many of them (including Honey I Shrunk the Kids). They can afford to experiment with something a little edgier. But please no wannabe Real Housewives of The Muppets atrocities.