It’s pretty well-known by this point that The Walt Disney Company owns the Muppets. What you might not know is that within the corporate behemoth (not the one named Gene) that is Disney, The Muppets Studio is actually a part of Walt Disney Imagineering.
That enables Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang to do some pretty cool stuff, like practically stealing the show during the Disney Parks presentation at Saturday’s Destination D23 being held at Walt Disney World. For those of you who didn’t get to enjoy the Muppets’ many, many appearances, we’re providing a full recap of the important parts of the event (never mind that whole Test Track refurbishment thing).
After a prerecorded intro from Disney CEO Bob Iger, Kermit, Gonzo, and Scooter helped Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro get ready for the presentation. Kermit believes in keeping things simple, while Gonzo, true to form, wants to go big with chickens and confetti cannons. D’Amaro, on the other hand, already knows the balance he wants to strike as Scooter lets him know just how much time he has until curtain. (Betcha you can’t guess how long.)
Instead of flashy stunts, D’Amaro puts his faith in the presentation’s house band, who did some admirable renditions of Muppet classics and more recent hits from The Muppets Mayhem, like “Gotta Be” and “Gonna Get There.”
Perhaps the biggest moment for Muppet fans came when D’Amaro brought out longtime Muppet performer and friend of ToughPigs Dave Goelz to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary with the Muppets. Dave talked about his long-standing love of the Disney parks, and his desire to be an Imagineer in his youth.
He then talked about how the Muppet performers find the heart of their characters through their camaraderie. Speaking as a fan, it was refreshing to see him get the recognition he so rightfully deserves for all his years of great service to the Muppets.
On the other hand, one individual who doesn’t quite recognize Dave is Miss Piggy, who noted that he empties her trash can. When Kermit pointed out that Beauregard does that, she added that they look alike. See what putting a bit of your personality into each character does for you, Dave?
Behind the scenes, Walt Disney Imagineering had a surprise for Dave. In recognition of his big milestone, they made him an “Honorary Imagineer,” complete with his own unique name tag and hard hat (with a matching hard hat for Gonzo). Unfortunately, this wasn’t part of the on-stage celebration, and was relegated to a post on Imagineering’s Instagram account days after the event. It’s a shame, because seeing him get that hat would’ve been an instant highlight.
For the future, Disney: we love Dave Goelz. We like seeing him receive nice things. More of that would be appreciated!
While we never got the big musical number Miss Piggy left to prepare for, we did get plenty more Muppet appearances to talk up some of Disney’s upcoming projects. Uncle Deadly and Gonzo showed up to discuss the Hatbox Ghost, coming in November to The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World.
The beloved gargoyle/phantom/fashion consultant seemed quite attuned to the technicalities of the Haunted Mansion, and pulled out a fast question about the potentiality of this new specter being the fabled 1,000th happy haunt, one that seemed to throw the presenting Imagineer for a (scripted) loop. Sadly, there was no sight of Gauzey the Hatbox Bear, but that could be because his mortal form was interested in a different project.
When you’re announcing that the Country Bear Jamboree will be getting an updated show, you’re going to need to test this with a few bears. Luckily, Fozzie Bear was on hand to give his approval… and share a few groan-inducing bear puns. It must’ve been Fozzie’s lucky day, because not only did the presenter offer more jokes, but Statler and Waldorf were nowhere to be found. If I had to guess, they were probably heckling the Hall of Presidents. A trip to Walt Disney World is still a trip to Walt Disney World, after all.
Meanwhile, when the conversation turned to EPCOT, the debate was on about which restaurant is superior. Unsurprisingly, Sam the Eagle favors the patriotic barbecue of Regal Eagle Smokehouse, while Dr. Bunsen Honeydew praised the Pickle Milkshake at Brew-Wing Lab for the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival. This was a rare opportunity to see Bunsen sans Beaker, who was likely off looking for Rizzo to help round out the culinary conversation.
Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Animal showed up very briefly to help the band close out “Can You Picture That?” D’Amaro then reminisced about having an Animal drum set as a kid, likely referencing The Muppet Sound line of toy percussion instruments.
As the presentation drew to a close, there was a moment that didn’t necessarily involve Muppets, but definitely had a special impact for the fans. With the official reveal of the new walk-around Figment coming to EPCOT, Dave finally got to embrace the character he voiced in the attraction Journey into Imagination with Figment. Seeing the joy on his face was heartwarming for Muppet fans and Disney Parks fans alike.
But for all the appearances, there was one major thing missing: any kind of Muppet-related announcement. There wasn’t even a preview of Kermit and Piggy’s upcoming roles in a new stage production for Jollywood Nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Of course it’s a little disappointing, but it’s nice to know that the Muppets are still being remembered by Disney, even if it’s just to liven up events. No matter where they go, they’re the stars of the show… unless they’re cramming Encanto and Indiana Jones into Disney’s Animal Kingdom or something like that.
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by Matthew Soberman (firstname.lastname@example.org)