Marni Hill – For those who may not be familiar with the term, a simple definition of ‘canon’ per Merriam-Webster, refers to an accepted principle or rule. In terms of movie franchises, ‘canon’ is twisted to mean ‘an accepted series of stories which all take place within the same universe and its timeline.’ The insanely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe is a key player in this practice and it’s not surprising that people are beginning to look for connections within their own fandoms. A great example of this is the Pixar Theory, developed into a thesis by Jon Negroni in 2013. Pixar fans and YouTubers alike have jumped on this idea and continue to set-up the timeline based on ‘Easter Eggs’ as each new film is released.
As of the 9th of May, The Muppets will have been around for 62 years. Not only does that mean that Kermit the Frog would need a walking stick if he were to suddenly start ageing, but there are hours upon hours of Muppet material to watch, listen and read to, most of which people don’t even have access to. If Jim Henson and his team had made the same priorities as so many studios are making nowadays, just imagine the extensive Henson Universe that could have been created. There is no reason why The Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock couldn’t take place in the same universe. In fact, this was actually established back in 1987. Considering the three franchises have been legally separated since the early 2000’s, this is sadly no longer the case, so let’s just focus on The Muppets for the time being.
The more you think about this question, the more you realise how many conflicting back-stories have been set-up for the characters and their shenanigans. Allow me to jump straight to the point and claim that no, there isn’t an official Muppet timeline. Not in the movies, films and TV specials anyway. However, due to the succession of performers knowing exactly who their characters are, everything the Muppets say about their private lives in interviews and guest spots have the potential to be considered integral to their own timeline. If Kermit tells his interviewer that he has thousands of brothers and sisters whom he often visits in the old Mississippi swamp, then that is what he does in our world. If Miss Piggy claims to have Kermit wrapped around her gloved finger, but the frog denies it, then that is a real conflict which should be considered unscripted.
I highly encourage you to watch this interview with Kermit on Studio Q. This is a great example of establishing a life outside of the films and TV shows.
So then, what about the movies and TV shows? They may be scripted and not considered “real” events, but they still exist, don’t they? This is where the individual imaginations of the fans come into play. There will always be conflicting opinions on what should be considered canon or not. For the sake of adding an example, allow me to take you through my own theory in favour of a Muppet timeline.
It all starts with a certain green frog. Hardly surprising, I know. As far as I’m concerned, in the world of the Muppets, all the movies and shows were scripted and produced by the characters themselves. The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppets from Space, Muppets Most Wanted and the two adapted-from-a-novel movies were simply that-movies. I like to think that The Muppet Movie in the other hand, along with Kermit Swamp Years is based on, if a bit exaggerated, real events that brought the troupe together.
We already knew before Kermit Swamp Years was released that Kermit grew up with his humongous family in Mississippi. He has also confirmed Sam and Friends to be his big break into television during 1955, meeting Jim Henson around that same time in Washington DC, placing Jim as a close work colleague in Kermit’s eyes, rather than his creator. Kermit first meets Rowlf the Dog in the 1960’s as Rowlf co-stars on the Jimmy Dean Show. Eventually, we get to Sesame Street in 1969, which Kermit still acknowledges being a part of despite the legal separation. Not too far down the road, the real-life equivalent of The Muppet Movie occurs where Kermit comes across all the weirdos he’d soon hire to join him on The Muppet Show. Whether you want to believe he was being chased by a frog-legs restaurant entrepreneur and signed a ‘standard rich-and-famous contract’ is up to you. I prefer to think that Kermit had been a part of the Jim Henson Company since Sam and Friends and Jim had left it to him to put together a show based in a crumbling down theatre.
You can probably guess where it goes from there, The Muppet Show became a huge hit and it all goes full steam ahead. I should point out that everything that happened on the TV shows, unlike the films, count as reality. They make the movies, shows and TV specials, they record albums, and even have a cartoon based on them. That’s right, I never have and never will consider Muppet Babies to be even remotely canon. Even in The Muppets Take Manhattan, it was just one of Piggy’s musical daydreams.
Even if you don’t agree with my version of Muppet canon, there are still a few aspects of the Muppets which stem from their various projects that we can all universally agree on. These aspects are indisputable due to being strongly established over the past forty or so years.
A few examples are:
- Kermit the Frog is the head-honcho.
- Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship.
- Gonzo and Camilla’s….whatever it is.
- Gonzo is undefinable and he is proud of that fact.
- You laugh for Fozzie out of pity, not comedy.
- Scooter will always have Kermit’s back.
- Being eaten alive is unavoidable.
- If Piggy is coming towards you in a huff, get the heck out of the way.
- If Gonzo comes flying towards you, get the heck out of the way.
- If you mess with Robin and Sweetums finds out, run for the hills.
- The Electric Mayhem are the house-band, no matter the project.
- There is comfort in being among your fellow weirdos.
- If a satisfying ending to a skit can’t be found, then either an explosion or erratic penguin-throwing make for a fine substitute.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a straight answer for today’s question, but it’s a bit hard when there isn’t a simple answer to be found in the first place. Just like with many other things, the history of the Muppets can be whatever you want to make it. While I just explained my own theory, in all honesty, the only Muppet history I genuinely care about is the true story of Jim Henson and the team he put together to create new creatures and worlds that made the world around him smile and laugh.
The history that truly counts.
This post originally appeared on Marni Hill’s blog Just For The Halibut.