Ryan Dosier – One of the last projects that Jim Henson and his top team of performers and writers worked on was 1990’s The Muppets at Walt Disney World. Between this and Muppet*Vision 3-D, Jim’s final work with Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, and his other beloved Muppets was spent in Orlando, Florida. Being one of the last projects, makes The Muppets at Walt Disney World all the more special, but what makes it great is how perfectly hilarious and performed it is.
The premise of this special, made as a sort of introduction to the Muppets now being under the Disney name as Jim was about to sell (something he always wanted), is very simple. Kermit brings his friends–consisting of Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Ma Bear, Gonzo, Camilla, Robin, the Electric Mayhem (including Lips and Clifford), Rowlf, Scooter, Beauregard, Bean Bunny, Rizzo, the Swedish Chef, Bunsen, Beaker, and Link Hogthrob–to visit his family in the Florida swamps. Of course, the Muppets are disgusted by the swamp and frustrated by the Florida frogs so when Kermit haphazardly mentions that Walt Disney World is in their backyard… the Muppets beat feet and head to the Magic Kingdom.
This is where it gets interesting, as a security guard (played by the great Charles Grodin), refuses to let the Muppets into the parks without paying (duh). Unfortunately for the guard, Animal has other plans as he rips the turnstile out of the ground and the Muppets break into the park. The Muppets all split up, excited to find different things to do–Miss Piggy wants to visit the Chinese Theater, Ma Bear and Fozzie want something to eat, Gonzo and Camilla search for oddities, etc.–leaving Kermit and Robin to try to bring them all back together.
A lot of madcap mayhem ensues as Beauregard takes Miss Piggy on all of Walt Disney World’s thrill rides, Beaker gets a bucket stuck on his head, Rowlf gets stuck in the pet care center, Bean annoys Scooter with his cuteness, Fozzie tries (and fails) to make money by telling jokes, Gonzo and Camilla travel through a sewer and a laundromat (“Nothing can touch the magic of Disney…”), the Swedish Chef sells tacos, the Electric Mayhem goes on a World (Showcase) Tour in Epcot, Statler and Waldorf flirt with an elderly woman, Link searches for t-shirts with cute little mice on them, and Rizzo “aiding” the security guard in a thinly veiled attempt to get free food. Meanwhile, Kermit loses Robin on the monorail, and when he’s down and sad, still-young and still-cute Raven Symone sings “Rainbow Connection” to cheer Kermit and and convince him to find his friends.
So Kermit reunites with Fozzie and Ma Bear and inadvertently winds up starring in the Indiana Jones Stunt Show with Miss Piggy, with all of the other Muppets coincidentally in the audience for the show. (Scooter: “Doesn’t that lady pig look familiar?” Bean: “Don’t all lady pigs look alike?”) After the show, the Muppets are finally apprehended by the security guard and, after some quick thinking by Kermit, taken straight to the big cheese himself. They meet Mickey Mouse and he and Kermit have the following brilliant exchange:
Mickey: “You know what we say: When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”
Kermit: “Actually, Mickey, we say: Someday you’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”
Floyd: “Uh oh, they’re starting argue philosophy!”
The special ends with the entire Muppet gang putting their hands in the cement at Disney’s Chinese Theater and singing the fantastic song “We’re Not Gonna Stop.” Afterwards, the Muppets are all relaxing in the swamp after a long day when they realize that Miss Piggy is stuck in the dried cement. The credits roll over poor Piggy meekly shouting “Help!”
In terms of sheer, unrelenting hilarity, The Muppets at Walt Disney World might just be my favorite Muppet TV special. The jokes fly so fast and so often and so brilliantly that it demands multiple viewings. (Thank goodness for YouTube.) Every Muppet gets his or her fantastic moment to shine. Rarely seen characters like Ma Bear, Link, Bean Bunny, Beauregard, and Clifford are a treat to see within the “main cast.” Gonzo is also at his weirdest here, and gets some of the best lines in the whole special. (“It’s Walt Disney’s Laundry-land! Lordy, it’s a dream come true!”) The Electric Mayhem song “Rock and Rollin’ Around the World” is fantastic and a great showcase for the whole band, which includes Clifford for the first and only time.
It’s a crying shame that Disney doesn’t take advantage of the fact that they own this special and put it as a bonus feature somewhere–anywhere. I suppose they might be worried that this special features some dated attractions at the parks, but they are completely overshadowed by great, great writing and performances by every Muppeteer. Jerry Juhl pulled out all the stops to write this brilliant special, and I highly recommend enjoying it for yourself on the YouTube link above.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org