Muppet Chat Mondays #1: Kerfuffle

For one of my first blog posts, I’m going to start a new segment called Muppet Chat Mondays. Today, I’m joined by my good friend Marni Hill of justforthehalibut discussing Steve Whitmire and the Kerfuffle. 

Marni: So, Disney…..Not many positive vibes coming from us at the moment, right?

Sunny: And do you know why that’s the case? Well…it’s because of The Muppets.

Marni: Gee, I wonder why that would be? They haven’t exactly impressed me with certain decisions…What about you?

Sunny: As Muppet Fans, we’ve been talking about the treatment of the Muppets for years. Even back in the mid 2000’s when Disney actually bought them. What did you do with them? Oh, just little TV Specials and Commercials. And look where we are now..back where we started.

Marni: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, yeah, some of their ideas have been great, but even then, the ideas came from outsiders who had to fight tooth and nail just to get things done. It took Jason Segel a number of tries to get TM2011 going. We’ll get to that during another chat in the future, but I think for the sake of discussion, we should probably address the elephant in the room.

Sunny: And by elephant, we mean frog. And by frog, we mean Steve Whitmire. If you weren’t already aware of it, during October 2016, Muppet Performer Steve Whitmire was contacted by Disney that they no longer needed his services anymore. Steve was devastated about this, but he remained quiet for 9 months hoping Disney would change their minds. However, we finally found out on July 10th that he was fired. Most of us assumed (because of the Thanksgiving Day Parade), that Steve was either sick or couldn’t make it to New York. Who would of know it was because he was fired? However, because of the response, Steve finally made a blog, and told us his side of the story. Disney didn’t want to say anything on the issue, but to keep quiet about it.

Marni: Yeah and what really bugs me about this whole thing is that there were so many different directions the Studio could have gone with their response to Steve’s initial blog post. Steve’s contention was that he wanted the fans to know that he was let go, he didn’t walk away from the characters.He also didn’t mention what those ‘stated issues’ were. Disney could have flown with that, pinned their dismissal of him as being due to “creative differences” and left it there.

Sunny: But yet they didn’t because they didn’t respect his love towards these characters. He knew about the integrity of Kermit and company, and wanted to keep that going for years. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t Jim Henson, because HELLO, NO ONE IS JIM HENSON! No one can be him. And honestly, I don’t care if the Hensons love Matt Vogel’s performance and praise him as the next Jim Henson, (which by the way, I absolutely adored his performance in the Hollywood Bowl) but that doesn’t matter to me. Even Steve wasn’t Jim either. But who cares about that? All that matters is that whoever is performing Kermit keeps that integrity alive and well. He needs to have those memories of Jim Henson and The Muppet Show, and Steve had that. Sadly, Matt doesn’t have the memories that Steve all of Kermit’s memories will basically be wiped out of existence.

Marni: That’s true. That’s Steve’s side of it at least and the one I’m inclined to believe. Another point of contention I have with the Muppets Studio was their decision to drag the Hensons into the conversation as a means of validating Steve’s dismissal in the eyes of the fans. Rather manipulative, don’t you think? I suppose it’s meant to show that Disney did some long, hard thinking about this. Even if what Brian, Lisa and Cheryl  said is genuinely what they feel, it just wasn’t necessary. I get it, they want to protect their father’s legacy, but so does Steve. You have two opposing sides fighting the same battle here.

Sunny: Exactly. And here’s the thing..I seriously don’t like the fact that the Hensons had to speak out about Steve. They literally didn’t have to do that. Especially Cheryl’s comment…and we all know how she feels about Steve. Yet, after thinking about the Hensons’ feelings on Steve..I just don’t care at this point. I don’t care what they think because HELLO..they don’t WORK with the Muppets anymore. You sold them off to Disney and you have NO say in this. Listen, I understand Steve’s respect towards the Hensons because they’re Jim’s Family, but as for me..their opinion doesn’t matter to me. They weren’t working with Steve (from what we know), so Disney didn’t even have to go to them. All they had to do was keep their mouths shut. If I were them and the press were hounding me for opinions, I would shut the door on them.

Marni: Same here. To me, it’s just felt like adding unnecessary fodder to an already raging fire. It also didn’t help that the Muppet fansites decided that the news needed to make it to the mainstream media. I agree that a major recast is earth-shattering news, but if they hadn’t have tweeted at so many places, the news would have been mentioned as an afterthought at most, but then completely ignored. The media doesn’t care about the Muppet Performers unless there’s some scandals to be had. This one was turning into a doozy at the time.

And I know that’s not a popular opinion, but remember what happened once the major news outlets started talking about it? Casual fans started raging along with the die-hards, which meant that Disney felt the need to release the ‘unacceptable business conduct’ statement, which dragged the Hensons into it and left Steve trying to defend himself….which just escalated things even further. Before we knew it, we had a three way cluster-f$#@ on our hands.

But going back to what Cheryl said, I honestly don’t see how she can blame Steve for Kermit being ‘depressed’. That’s a little out of touch, right?

Sunny: Oh absolutely. What I loved about Steve’s performance of Kermit was that he was able to continue the legacy of Jim Henson, but also bringing some new life to the character. One of the main reasons I got into The Muppets was because of Steve. I remember I wasn’t aware of The Muppets at all until the 2011 movie came along. When I saw Kermit’s appearance in the movie, I was starstruck because watching Kermit’s performance and seeing the way Steve made him so emotional, I started connecting to the character.

I understood what Kermit was going through in the movie, and I knew that he was upset about The Muppets splitting up. He was depressed for a reason, and I wish that the Muppet Fandom wouldn’t give Kermit this reputation of being a “depressed” victim. Honestly, I feel like it’s an insult to Steve’s performance. He was given a script, and he went with it and I felt like he did an amazing job at it.

Marni: Oh, I agree! You can’t blame him for that. If the writing is depressing, you’re going to end up with a depressing performance. Simple as that….

Sunny: Whether it was Kermit giving a speech during the 2011 movie, realizing his friends needed him in Muppets Most Wanted, or confessing his love to Miss Piggy during the finale of the 2015 show, there was always something to enjoy about Steve’s performance as Kermit.

What I also loved about Steve’s performance was the facial expressions he gave to Kermit. The reason that I connected to Kermit was seeing the expressions he gave. Like for example, during Single All the Way (Episode 10 of The 2015 Show), I would always watch Kermit and notice little details, like how his head would go down, or he would watch and respond to Piggy, or this little smile/swoon face he’d give to show that he was in love with her. Those kind of things are so subtle, but Steve knew how to bring them. Not saying the other performers didn’t have that talent, but it seemed like whenever a Steve was interacting with another character, he had that chemistry with them as Kermit.

Marni: I used to imagine Steve sitting down in front of a mirror for hours on end, just playing around with Kermit and experimenting with those expressions. It amounted to some pretty funny moments during interviews…..

…And see, it’s these types of things I’m going to miss the most from Steve. His dedication to his craft and all it entails, character integrity and all that, amounted to some pretty damn powerful performances and was what convinced me that he deserves his place as my all-time favourite Performer. I can harp on about and try to discover the truth about why he was fired until I turn blue, but at the end of the day, I don’t care anymore.

At this point, I’m just looking forward to seeing what he does next. If we’re lucky, it’ll be more puppetry. It would make me so happy to see some type of film starring him and one of his original characters….Maybe, Otis?

Sunny: Yeah, that would be awesome! Maybe he could start his own Youtube channel, or a podcast! I’d love to hear all the amazing stories he had about Jim, and what it was like to work with him. Also, to give younger puppeteers some advice about puppetry. Even doing some workshops in the future as well? Anything to show the world that Steve still has the power to create something amazing and show Disney/Jim Henson Company that they made a terrible mistake.

Marni: I have no idea what drove them to that point, and again, I’m not going to harp on about it, but I agree. The man only turned 58 this week, still got plenty of time to make a name for himself in puppetry outside of the Muppets. He has the right creative mindset to do it, so it’ll be interesting to see how Steve uses it as he moves forward. In the meantime, we also have to wait it out and see how all of the Muppet recasts will go. The Hollywood Bowl stuff looked promising, but it wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy me…..especially since I didn’t go.

Sunny: Same here, but from watching the clips, I thought everyone did an amazing job. I even have to admit Matt Vogel did an excellent with Kermit, especially singing Happy Feet and Rainbow Connection. If they’re going to go forward with Matt’s performance of Kermit, I’m kind of okay with it.

However, I felt like there was one element that ruined the Hollywood Bowl for me..the writing. Even if everyone is praising Matt’s performance of Kermit, he’s still the victim of horrible writing and really hope in the future they’ll fix that.

Marni: Yeah, Matt’ll be fine and so will the others. The more Matt loosens up with the character, so will Kermit. I’ll just always prefer Steve’s performance for the reasons we’ve both already mentioned. I look forward to seeing what Matt can do, but there will always be that feeling of yearning nostalgia anytime I watch something made between 1990 and 2016.I don’t see a problem with feeling that way.

Sunny: Me either. I will always miss Steve’s performance, but I’m really hopeful about the future, especially with the Hollywood Bowl. If they continue to do live shows or even a live tour, that would be amazing. And if not, I don’t know what to expect from the characters. Like I said before, we’re into this dry spot again. What else do the Muppets have planned? 100 ‘Thought of the Weeks’? That’s not enough to keep these characters relevant. How about some new shorts or something? ANYTHING to keep these characters around for a while.

Marni: Eh, those ‘Thought of the Week’ clips are just filler. Honestly couldn’t care less about them.. I have no idea what Disney has planned for the Muppets next, but I hope it doesn’t consist of what Steve has been trying to warn us about. I’ve gotten the message loud and clear, but only time will tell if Disney has followed suit.

Sunny: Couldn’t care less? But they star the greatest character of all time..Uncle Deadly! So, it makes it 85% better.

Marni: Well, no shit! Still doesn’t mean I’m going to do a happy dance every Monday when they are released.

Sunny: Fair enough. But like you said before, I am afraid of what Disney is going to do with The Muppets and that Steve is right about all this. I wanna believe because the performers still there have taken on so many characters, that they can still keep the integrity just like Steve wanted, but again who knows?

Marni: So….we trust the Performers, but not so much Disney…right?

Sunny: Pretty much yup.

Marni: Cool. That seems a good place to wrap this up for now.

Sunny: Yes it does! We’ll definitely get into talking more about Disney in the future.

Marni: Can’t wait, good madam, can’t wait…….

2 thoughts on “Muppet Chat Mondays #1: Kerfuffle

  1. Well done, ladies! You’ve done a great job of hitting the important points, but I have some things to add.

    First of all, THANK YOU for pointing out that a lot of the recent Muppet material of the last 5 years or so came about because of people outside of Disney. That’s an argument that I’ve seen on the fan forums, that Steve’s assertion that the characters were being watered down, etc. was invalid because (most of) the recent Muppet projects of the last few years have been so good and Muppety. And it’s like, hello? That’s because Jason Segel, who’s a fan and actually CARES about the characters, swooped in and gave them something good to do! If not for him, who knows where the Muppets would be now and what they would be doing?

    Second, in regards to Disney, I think they would have been more willing to just chalk the whole thing up to “creative differences” and then move on if they’d been able to convince Steve to sign one of their infamous nondisclosure agreements. Because they couldn’t silence him, they instead felt they had to discredit him. I’d like to say that their aggressive smear tactics in regard to Steve actually demonstrate how potentially damaging they consider his blog to be; then again, they have a long history of being aggressive and proactive when it comes to protecting their image. It seems to me that they’d save a lot of time and energy, (not to mention money) if they would simply refrain from doing shady things that reflect badly on them in the first place, so that they didn’t have to cover them up later. Kind of a vicious cycle, if you ask me.

    And speaking of vicious, that brings me to the Henson children. It’s unfortunate that so many fans seem willing to take their words at face value simply because they are Hensons, even if their words fly in the face of Jim’s stated philosophy. How ironic that even as the fansites are quoting Jim’s last letter about “loving and forgiving everybody,” they don’t seem to notice or care that what the Henson children are doing is exactly the opposite of loving and forgiving.

    In regards to Cheryl in particular, some people are willing to cut her some slack because apparently that nasty Facebook post was initially supposed to be private and was made public without her knowledge or consent. And yet, a few days later, she was interviewed by the Today Show and given the opportunity to back off on her rhetoric, and instead, she doubled down on it.

    What is particularly frustrating to me is that so few people (i.e. fans) are willing to hold the Hensons responsible for their words and actions. Joe Hennes of ToughPigs tut-tutted how “tragic” it was that, “Cheryl Henson gave an extended preview of the [new Jim Henson exhibit at MOMI] to The Today Show, but they only used a soundbite from her interview in which she addresses the Steve Whitmire situation.” And yes, I agree that I would have preferred to see her talking about the exhibit than to watch her badmouthing Steve, and obviously she had no control over how they would edit the interview, but she had total and complete control over what she said, or didn’t say, about “the Steve Whitmire situation.” If she didn’t want that story overshadowing the opening of her father’s exhibit, it was within her power to prevent it, or to at least minimize it, simply by not talking about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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