As someone who grew up during the 1980s and 1990s, I view those decades in bright, fluorescent rad sunglasses. It was a great time to be a kid. Everything was a little campy without really knowing or acknowledging it. On Friday nights, I tuned in to TGIF to see the latest episode of Full House and Family Matters. I noticed that most of the sitcom families featured on TGIF each managed to visit Walt Disney World. Such episodes turned into 30-minute long commercials for the theme park. The Tanners went, The Winslows went, The Fosters, and the Matthews all went. Even Dan and Roseanne Connor got to visit the happiest place on Earth! It stands to reason that in 1990 the frog would meet the mouse when the Muppets went to Disney! The Muppets at Walt Disney World was part of an awareness campaign to prepare fans for a merger between Jim Henson and The Walt Disney Company. It aired as an episode of The Magical World of Disney. It was to ease the public into the merger and to excite fans. Two of the major players in family entertainment and entertainment technology were going to join forces. Henson was going to sell the Muppet franchise to Disney! As a geeky little kid, I had read about the possibility of the acquisition and was a little bummed about the idea of the Muppets losing their independence to the Disney power house. I felt slightly betrayed by Henson, but I also was excited at what it meant for puppetry and the Muppets. I hoped for new merchandise, movies, and television shows. I was fully prepared to beg my parents to shell out cold hard cash for my Muppet obsession. Of course, Henson’s sudden death ended the merger. Without him, the financial value of the Muppets declined quickly just like any stock would. The property stalled and meandered throughout the decade with a few home runs, but with several strikeouts, too. It is bittersweet and pretty hard to watch The Muppets at Walt Disney World. For starters, this was one of the final projects that Jim Henson worked on. It was the last special in which he performed his signature characters like Kermit, Swedish Chef, Link Hogthrob, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, and Waldorf. As I watched the special, I caught myself studying his intonation and voice, searching for some sign that the man who so shaped the entertainment of my childhood would die shortly after this special aired. To me, he was a legend and his characters were my friends. Not only would this be some of the last footage of Henson performing his iconic characters, but it would also mark the start of a long absence of such characters except for Kermit. These characters were largely silenced until just a few years ago or regulated to background characters. Of course, veteran Muppet performer Steve Whitmire would take over performing Kermit adding his own subtle differences to the mainstay character. This would also be the last special that featured Richard Hunt performing Scooter, Statler, and Janice. The special itself is like most of the other television shows set at Walt Disney World, a giant commercial for the park. Even as a 30 year old watching this special, I feel myself longing to visit Cinderella’s Castle or boarding the Star Tours ride. Of course, the ride I really crave is Muppet*Vision 3D which had not opened at the time of this special. The Muppets are truly what make this special great. At the beginning of the special, the Muppets initially went to Florida to visit Kermit’s family and humble beginnings back in his hometown, Paradise Swamp. Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang quickly tire of the bugs, heat, and alligators. They decide to head for Disney World when they find out it is nearby. Miss Piggy becomes enamored with the idea of starring in a show at Disney while others are excited to enjoy the rides and attractions. Some of the best bits are short interludes and scenes that could easily be overlooked. They do not add to the plot necessarily, but they are just plain fun. In one such scene, Statler and Waldorf cannot find anything to complain about in the park which bothers them and causes them to start complaining. Gonzo has returned back to his basic weirdo self. In another scene, he and Camilla explore the cutting edge attractions of Disney World such as a used cup exhibit in a garbage can and a romantic tour of the park’s laundry mat. Rowlf finds himself stuck in the pet care facility, but he makes the most of things when he sings and plays piano with the other Muppet dogs like the cast of Dog City, Sprocket from Fraggle Rock, and Rufus from Hey! Cinderella. It seems like poor Rowlf is always regulated to some type of kennel while the others are out having adventures. Miss Piggy really hams it up as Beareguard suckers her in to riding “thrill rides” like The Mad Tea Party, Star Tours, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The entire special is “okay,” but the best moments are Gonzo in the laundry mat and Miss Piggy on the rides. These are wonderful Muppet moments! As far as celebrity guest stars, this special is pretty sparse. Michael Eisner makes an appearance at the beginning. Raven-Symone, who was a fixture of sitcoms of the 90s once the Olsen twins lost their cute appeal and became old maids around 7 years old, sings a cringe-worthy version of The Rainbow Connection. Luckily, Kermit joins her halfway through and it becomes a duet, but she still got on my nerves. She appeared out of nowhere to cheer up Kermit without any type of adult supervision and disappeared just as quickly. I guess random kids showing up and singing just happens at Disney World. Former Muppet costar Charles Grodin makes a great cameo as an overzealous, bumbling security guard who spends the entire special trying to catch the Muppets after they snuck into the park. The gang did not have tickets. Kermit normally handles that stuff, but he does not have any pockets to stash his wallet. Rizzo joins forces with Grodin and rats out the other Muppets in order to save himself when he was cornered. Poor form, Rizzo. This is more characteristic of Rizzo from The Muppets Take Manhattan and differs from the Rizzo we see in later Muppet movies. The song used as for the finale “More, More, More” is somewhat haunting. It is chipper, choreographed, and high energy as you would expect from the Muppets, but the lyrics try too hard to convince the audience that this merger will be great. The Muppets sing and promise to perform for us no matter where they are and to be inspired as we applaud and cry out for, “More! More!” It just seems a bit forced. It made me feel like my parents were telling me they were filing for a divorce, but trying to convince me that it was going to cause great things to happen. The hour long special would have worked better if it were edited in half. The best material was Grodin chasing after the Muppets as they enjoyed the park. The special would have been more entertaining if it were treated like an episode of The Jim Henson Hour. Part of the special could have been the Muppets going to the swamp, heading to Disney, enjoying the rides, and trying to outwit Grodin. The other half hour could have been a documentary hosted by Henson who explained the merger and future projects we could expect. This would have allowed for a sneak peek at Muppet*Vision 3D and other ways the Muppets would have been present at the park. This special is hard to fully enjoy in the carefree Muppet spirit if you watch it now, but it is worth a look for television and Muppet history. It is great to see Miss Piggy totally terrified of the rides! Do yourself a favor and fast forward through Raven Symone. You can thank me for that later. It is not available commercially, but can be viewed online. After you watch the special, be sure to watch some of the outtakes that can also be found online. It is a rare glimpse inside the camaraderie of the Muppet performers. It is simply hilarious. Overall, I have to give this special 2 out of 5 rubber chickens. I wish I could give it a higher rating in memory of Henson and Hunt, but it seems that the Disney influence had already begun to saturate the Muppets. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.