Stuck with Stock Photos: The Muppets Need Better Pictures

Published: May 21, 2020
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Whenever a new Muppet project is announced (like, for example, the upcoming Muppets Now), I feel a surge of excitement. I am sufficiently teased, and my anticipation and imagination and expectations run wild. I only wish the rest of the world could feel what I feel.

I have a theory about the ceiling of casual Muppet fan excitement. I believe it all comes down to those stock photos.

Y’see, the Muppets used to have some truly amazing photography assets. Thanks to folks like photographer John Barrett, we got to see gems like this:

But now? We tend to see the same pictures of Kermit and the gang over and over and over again. And when the first thing anyone sees from an upcoming project are the photos, they’ve got to be eye-grabbing or exciting or somehow raising eyebrows and interests.

I first noticed this phenomenon during the promotions for Muppets Most Wanted, a film that I truly believe is a top-notch Muppet movie, but fans didn’t bother to go to theaters to see it. Why could that be? Were they already tired of the Muppets after the Jason Segel movie? Or was it because all of the promotional materials all looked like this:

Literally all of the Muppets in this image – except Constantine – are images created for the previous movie (or earlier). Even Constantine only had a few photos taken, which were recycled over and over again.

But when we look at the main posters for the 2011 Muppet movie? They really pop.

With new photos, these posters can practically tell a story. The Muppets are advancing toward us, or they’re overflowing beyond the frame. You can practically hear Kermit’s inner monologue when you look into those ping-pong eyes. But when we see them in the Muppets Most Wanted poster above, they’re just standing there, looking straight ahead, as if their lifeless bodies have been stuffed and posed for the camera. Because that’s what was available in the Disney photo archive, and they’d prefer to sacrifice the expense of some photo shoots for a proper ad campaign.

Now look at the posters for Muppets Now. Each one of them has the same motif from the Muppets Most Wanted posters. Stock images Photoshopped together, with the expectation that seeing a colorful cast of Muppets in one frame is enough to convince a casual Muppet fan to spend a few bucks or a few hours on whatever they’re making next.

These are especially terrible when you look at them in a row. Miss Piggy looks like she’s from two different eras. The same sideways image of Animal that we’ve seen a million times is in all three group shots. Fozzie Bear is inexplicably a giant in one of them.

Does it seem surprising that the show is called Muppets Now when the characters in these posters were photographed over a decade ago?

One of the many things that makes the Muppets special is that they’re real. Puppets can do a lot of what animated characters can’t. But the downfall to this is that they’re expensive to photograph. It takes a lot of time and money to properly capture images of static puppets while making them look alive. Meanwhile, it probably takes some animator all of 20 minutes to create an image of Peabody and Mr. Sherman decked out for Arbor Day to post on social media.

How great would it be if Disney finally retired the sideways Animal photo? Or the Statler and Waldorf back-to-back? Or thumbs up Pepe? By letting the characters take new photos every few years, that library could build up to create dozens of options, allowing them to react to different things in their posters. They could mix and match to feel fresh and new. And when one is repeated, we’d barely notice because there are so many others to see. It’s an investment well worth every penny, if only to avoid the Muppets Most Wanted problem of investing in an ad campaign that already looks old and tired.

And honestly, I just want the world to be as excited as me for whatever the Muppets are doing next.

Click here to hold still for a photo on the ToughPigs forum!

by Joe Hennes –

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Written by Joe Hennes

Co-owner and Editor-in-Chief.
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