Report: Muppet Babies Premiere Event

Published: March 22, 2018
Categories: Feature, Reports

A few nights ago, ToughPigs got to attend a screening of two of the first episodes of the new Muppet Babies, and it’s so cute and funny and fuzzy and melodic and creative and to put it simply – I loved it! Now, I’m in my thirties. I wish I wasn’t, but it’s true. And I grew up watching the original Muppet Babies, as I imagine many of you did. But here’s the thing: unless you just discovered that show on YouTube this morning, no one reading this is the same age they were when they first watched Muppet Babies. So when Disney Junior announced they were introducing a new version of Muppet Babies, I hope you kept that in mind. This is not the same show, and really this isn’t made for the “adults” reading this site – and that’s a really great thing! But if you’re someone with a child or two in your life, or just have an appreciation for short, simple stories told in extraordinary ways, this show just might be for you.

First off, the characters are outstanding, all of their personalities shine through and are three-dimensional and might feel closer to what I imagine the child versions of the Muppets than even the original show hit on. Kermit struggles with being a leader who has his own faults. Gonzo is a weird kid who isn’t afraid to be himself. Piggy’s quest for stardom is already a driving force, but her sweet side for her friends is still present – something even Miss Piggy proper loses sight of sometimes. This could actually be my favorite characterization of her in any medium. Animal’s overactive tendencies are intact, but the encouragement from his friends lets him feel accepted, giving him a sweeter, softer side we don’t always see. Far and away, my favorite part of the show is how much the characters feel like their puppet counterparts, just tinier.

On top of that, the animation is superb. It really feels as though you’re watching puppets bounce into the frame and wiggle around – which was the filmmakers’ goal. Following the screening, there was a Q&A moderated by Animation Magazine editor-in-chief Ramin Zahed with executive producer Tom Warburton, story editor/co-producer Eric Shaw, supervising director Matt Danner, and art director Chris Moreno. It was here that we learned that the show began as a short animated by Danner and Moreno after Muppet Studios moved into the Disney Interactive department where they worked. The Muppets team loved it, especially how they modeled the characters after the actual puppets, using materials from the workshops in New York and Los Angeles – they even got to see the original Muppets Take Manhattan Muppet Babies to use as reference. They worked with the Muppet performers and absolutely nailed the small details – Kermit’s facial expressions, for example, make it look and feel as though there’s a hand inside there. They even developed something they call “Jiggletech” to give the Muppet Babies and flop and rubberiness that sells the animation-via-puppetry feel.

(Fun fact as an aside: Danners also provides the voice of Baby Kermit, which he had to audition for after having done the voices for the original short in what’s known in animation as “scratch work,” and noted voice actor Eric Bauza is voicing Baby Fozzie – which means that there are currently two Matts performing Kermit, and two Erics performing Fozzie.)

And for anyone worried about “the new girl,” Summer the penguin is just as cute and fun as she looks – a creative purple gal who fits right into the world of the Muppets. You may recall that this character was almost a sheep, but the people behind the scenes discovered that that wasn’t quite working, so they went through a menagerie of animals before landing on penguin, based on a scribble Warburton did in a brainstorming session with Moreno. When they went to Muppet Studios with the design, they congratulated them on an old adage Jim Henson had – if it doesn’t work, throw a penguin at it! And even though it wasn’t planned, that’s literally what they did.

All in all, Muppet Babies is a show that touches on what its predecessors did well for children’s imaginations, while making it a brand new introduction to the wonderful cast of characters known as the Muppets. If you’ve got a little human in your life, I highly recommend checking it out with them – I can’t wait to hang out with my nephew and sing along to the fantastic songs, absorb all the colors, and laugh along to this wonderful show.

As an added bonus, Disney has provided us with this clip to share with you!  As you’ll see, this one has a decent nod to the classic Muppet Babies series!

Video and images in this post © 2017 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

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by Matt Wilkie

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