Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How The Muppets Will Change The World (Or At Least The Face of Disney)...


At D23 this past weekend, Dick Cook unveiled plans for the new Muppet movie, which included twenty-four of its brightly colored stars performing “Rainbow Connection” aboard a Mark Twain steamboat. However, just a couple of days later during the Future of the Muppets presentation in the Walt Disney theater, it was joked that the upcoming film, for which Jason Segel is using as much of the Hollywood clout his successful CBS show has given him to write, will be the "cheapest Muppet movie ever made." Audience members were not given an intended release date, nor any hints as to any of the celebrity pals of the Muppets who might pop up in the story. Instead, the Muppets presentation focused heavily on branding and merchandising in order to bring the long-time favorites of many into the homes of new.

A hype package was played at the beginning of the session to showcase all of the places in pop culture that the Muppets have been popping up these last few years...including my personal favorites, 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. Miss Piggy's sense of fashion was put on display on-screen, as well as out in the hall leading into the theater, where the original Marc Jacobs dress designed special for the Hollywood starlet sat in a glass case. Samples of the Muppets' original viral videos were shown, and new ones were announced to be on their way. "Bohemian Rhapsody," of course, got the loudest applause.

However, the bulk of the presentation was devoted to retail, like upcoming iTunes Applications, (Waldorf and Statler's "Ssshhh" movie App, Pepe's Love Meter, and Animal's Drum Kit that lets you make your own playlist or use his), books (also an upcoming from everyone's favorite grumpy old men), and original comics.

After all, every "true" Disney fan knows that what makes so many of their characters so magical is that you can take them home with you when you leave the parks in the form of everything from plushes and action figures to their images on clothing and even drinkware. And the presentation got a little help from the Muppets themselves, including Fonzie, Gonzo, Pepe, Sam the Eagle, and a couple of their chicken pals, in order to explain how they found that Disney magic.

Steiff will be releasing a limited edition Kermit the Frog doll (retails for $265), followed by a limited edition Miss Piggy. Fans were delighted by the concept sketches and mock-ups but even happier to learn that the raffle ticket they received on their way into the theater would grant them the opportunity to win one of these unique, collectible stuffed animals that are not even yet on the market...among many other prizes.

What really set the fans off, though, was learning that the Whatnot Workshop-- which currently resides in the flagship FAO Schwarz store in New York City-- will be making its way out west "sometime in the future." Again, fans were teased with the announcement, as no real date or time could be shared-- yet. The plans for the Whatnot Workshop appear to place it in the Disneyland park (at the Emporium), though, instead of Downtown Disney or at DCA, which is where the "Muppetvision" show resides (and as for that once-deemed "4-D" show...we'll get to that in just a moment).

The Whatnot Workshop allows Muppet fans to come in and create their own Whatnot puppet, Build A Bear style (as you may not know, Whatnots are Muppet extras; the background players you have seen for many years but which did not have names or merchandise attached to them-- until now). The Whatnot Workshop has complete customization, from different Muppet bodies, to wardrobe choices that range from doctor's coats and scrubs or suit jackets or simple tee shirts, to various colors and lengths of facial hair. It's perfect for any Muppet fan who want to "Muppetize" themselves!

And of course, the pièce de résistance is the expansion in the theme parks. The show's 3-D technology is a bit dated now (it hasn't changed since I first saw the show in about '92 or '93), especially when compared with the sequences we saw at the Future of Pixar presentation. However, true Muppet fans don't seem to mind, as they are just eager to see their buddies still alive and well within the Disney family. Pepe joked that what "Muppetvision" really needs is more of him, and the audience laughed and cheered. Other than learning about some of the new movie spoof posters in the waiting queue (Kermit in Pirates..., a parody of Disney's recent hit Wall-E, etc), though, fans were once again only given a hint at what's to come. Are plans still being worked on? Or were Muppet team members just waiting to gauge the reaction from the crowd before deciding what elements to really embark on (and first)? Hopefully we'll have our answers soon because while the souvenir Myzos bracelets that were handed out were nice, they will only tide these fans over for so long before they start flooding Muppet Central demanding to know more concrete details.

In any case, though, it is clear that the Muppets will be much more prominent in the near future in a lot of key places (their original holiday film, Letters to Santa, won the night for NBC last year and even kept the title of the highest rated program for about eleven weeks after it aired, so needless to say, it will re-run again in Winter 2009. A new holiday special is planned, as well). If Muppet fans had their way, Kermit would be right up there next to Mickey on all Disneyland and Disney World adverts and statues!

If you're a Muppet fan and would like an exclusive and unique D23 Muppet Fan Pack, please head over to IBG Inc's eBay page; all proceeds will be going to charity!

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