The Muppets Mayhem vs. Canon (Did Somebody Say Cannon?)

Published: August 25, 2023
Categories: Commentary, Feature

This article was written by ToughPigs pal and Muppet aficionado Kieran Moore. Thanks so much to Kieran for all his hard work!

Across the internet Muppet fans are known for their level-headedness, thoughtful debate and desire to all get along. That might be overselling it, but compared to some other fandoms I think we’re a pretty agreeable bunch. I mean I’ve seen literal wars start on Disney Theme Park forums over Popcorn Vs. Churros. It might sound silly to you, but I once had to defend myself so vigorously I lost an “i”. That keyboard was ruined… 

Anywho, my point is, I have a controversial opinion about The Muppets Mayhem and I’m hoping this is a safe space to bring it up.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I didn’t fill in a “Two Things” for the recent ToughPigs articles [note to editor: insert links here and here] because to be honest I couldn’t really think of anything I didn’t like. (Somewhat controversially, my one thing I did like would have been JJ. I really appreciated how much nuance they gave what could have been a very stereotypical character.) The whole show was so well done we got great characterization, funny lines, a bunch of new songs, awesome cameos – all the hallmarks of a great Muppet production. In the immortal words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?” 

But upon reading the two aforementioned pieces [note to editor: if you didn’t take the hint earlier, feel free to add links here and here], I realised there is something about Muppets Mayhem I don’t like – and that’s the fan’s reactions to it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself (again)…

One of the best pieces of merch ToughPigs sell is the awesome “I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than the person wearing an ‘I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you’ T-Shirt” [note to editor: there’s another spot for a link there… aren’t I good to you?] and that’s exactly the problem. You see, when I was reading the previously noted pieces [note to editor: if you haven’t added a link by now I’m not doing your job for you…] the same comment came up time and again and it basically centred on how much everyone loved The Electric Mayhem’s backstory. And that started ringing alarm bells…

Because for those of us that appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level, established Muppet canon (did somebody say cannon?) is somewhat tricky. And the fan’s reaction to this little slice makes me more nervous than usual. (I realise “little slice” is a Labyrinth reference and this is a Muppet article, but I was trying to think of a part of a cannon and could only come up with “ball” so the choice is yours…) 

But I’m getting ahead of myself (again [again])…

One of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had involved trying to explain to my co-workers that Kermit the Frog is an actor who just so happens to mostly play characters mostly called Kermit the Frog. They weren’t getting it, but it’s true. We know Kermit the Frog played Bob Cratchit in Muppets Christmas Carol, so why is it so hard to figure out Kermit the Frog played Kermit the Frog in The Muppets (2011)? In the real world the Muppets didn’t break up, they didn’t band back together to save their theater, they didn’t travel by map. They did those things in the movie, but not in real life. Because as those of us who appreciate the Muppets on a deeper level know, that’s fiction. The real Muppets are just playing those parts. (And they’re very good at it.)

So the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the Muppets Mayhem episodes that include snippets of backstory make me worry – are we actually in the process of establishing canon (did somebody say cannon?) for The Electric Mayhem and in the immortal words of Sweetums “Is there any way to stop it?”

The Muppets already have an origin story. (If you haven’t seen The Muppet Movie; 1) what are you doing here?, and 2) go and do it now and then come back – we’ll wait…) It’s acknowledged in the movie that this is at best an approximation and it even goes against character introductions we’ve already seen such as Scooter in The Muppet Show.  (If you haven’t seen The Muppet Show; 1) what are you doing here?, and 2) go and do it now and then come back – we’ll wait…) I think most of us here know to take that movie with a huge pinch of salt – the Muppets are playing characters. But I’m worried that so many people loved cute Baby Animal and/or were so overjoyed to see a Jerry Nelson reference when Floyd and Dr. Teeth met that they’re happy to forget this is a work of fiction in favor of wishing it was true. 

I get it, I do. I love those things too. I shed a tear at the single word “Keep”. Heck I probably shed a tear at “Jerry’s Tunes” because I’m a nerd, but loving those things doesn’t make them fact nor should it force them to be. We’ve now had at least four Baby Animals – they can’t all be definitive. And this is where we get to the nub of the problem, if fans love this new Baby Animal so much does this mean we won’t accept any future versions? In 5, 10, 20 years time if Muppet creatives want to do a show establishing Animal as a time traveling caveman who learnt to play drums using mastodon bones are we going to be upset that “Keep” is no longer true? (I mean, could you imagine if some deluded person tried to turn Gonzo into an alien? The absolute nerve!) Does one version of Animal negate the other and do we really feel comfortable stifling people’s creativity to keep our own wish fulfillment happy? We have to be open to the future.

And that’s why Muppets Mayhem should immediately be removed from Disney+. No wait, that’s not right…

And that’s why Muppet fans should immediately be removed from Disney+. No, that’s not right either… 

And that’s why Muppet fans should love, cherish and appreciate the good stuff (and Muppets Mayhem certainly is), but remember to keep it in check. We don’t own these characters and I kind of like the fact that no one does. (Okay, so Disney. Disney does in actual fact own these characters. And their likenesses and names and blah, blah, blah, blah…) 

But the magic of the Muppets is in the mystery and the discovery and, yes, the mayhem. And when you learn to embrace that, you’ll finally appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level. 

(Note to anyone reading this who might have the power to make stuff happen: while writing this I realised the “Multi-verse” concept is so ripe for parody now that it seems obvious for the Muppets to do it sooner rather than later. Let’s have all those Baby Animals meet up. Why can’t Gonzo be the one who introduces the Cigar Box Frackle to the world of poultry? The world is waiting to see Harry The Hipster teach Fozzie Bear visual thinking and can you imagine the carnage of a room full of Miss Piggys? Of all the franchises that suit a “Multi-verse” type story this is definitely one.) 

Click here to say “canon” without any repercussions on the ToughPigs forum!

by Kieran Moore

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