One of the greatest things about The Muppets is that, while they’re timeless, they’re also current. They have the ability to transcend any media form or any film genre or parody any film that they please, yet it feels fresh and it works. They also keep up with modern trends, appear at major events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade among celebrities, host their own live concerts, appear on talk-shows, and even take over YouTube occasionally. Certainly, the world has changed a lot since The Muppets first graced the airwaves with The Muppet Show in 1976, but time and time again, the franchise has proven its survival in a continuously changing entertainment landscape.
In fact, one of the major reasons why the Muppets manage to stay in the spotlight is their ability to keep up with changing culture and media. Prior to their big comeback in 2011, The Muppets made their presence prominent again while experimenting with the fairly new streaming site, YouTube, leading to one of their biggest digital breakthroughs with the viral hit, Bohemian Rhapsody which grew to be a monstrous viral smash for the franchise and for Disney. The potential to implement The Muppets into short online sketches continued to be realized and in the following years, a cavalcade of Muppet shorts and web-series made their way online, including a few notable additions, Disney Drive-On With the Muppets, Flowers on the Wall, Beakers Ballad, Stand by Me, and so many more. The Muppets continue to blend their brilliant sense of creativity and experimentation in the digital age with some truly remarkable work online from Disney’s Muppet social media department. The Muppets continue to put out some truly hilarious and innovative works through their social media channels in what’s easily Disney’s best use of bringing any of their characters to life through the ability of what the internet has to offer. The creativity that surrounds the Muppets on digital platforms is truly spectacular…seriously, whoever is running their social media presence really deserves a raise.
Elsewhere, The Muppets continue to be a staple of online memes and viral trends, notably the two recent Kermit memes, ‘That’s None of My Business’ which oddly took off from a Lipton Tea ad cross-promoting Lipton and Muppets Most Wanted, and the other a frame from the actual film featuring Kermit and Constantine called ‘Evil Kermit’. (If only people had seen the film to know the ‘evil Kermit’ actually has a name.) The internet imploded over the ‘break-up’ of Kermit and Piggy last year, dominating the news for weeks on end leading up to the premiere of their ABC series, the internet gathered in excitement when Miss Piggy saved Tony Bennett from falling off a float and the internet delighted when Disney debuted a brand new ‘Pigs in Space’ series. While all this unfolded while, in the past year, the Muppets also debuted a TV show, which was watched by over nine million people in its pilot episode only to fail miserably and ultimately end in cancellation. The most frustrating thing about being a Muppet fan in these times is consistently seeing The Muppets take the spotlight to such enthusiasm from the general public, only later to see that none of these enthusiastic fans show up to see the Muppet shows or films. In an age where The Muppets consistently have such a large part in our digital culture, why aren’t they truly thriving in the ways that their resources would suggest they should? The work that Disney has turned out for these characters in the form of viral videos and social media has been brilliant, so it’s baffling that more fans aren’t eagerly lining up.
While clever social marketing may have drawn audiences to watch the first episode of The Muppets in 2015, the show ultimately left a lot of damage on a franchise already on crutches. The nostalgia sense and faithfulness that most general audiences were looking for were missing, which left many to abandon the show leaving the franchise’s near-future with a giant question mark slapped on top of it. Besides, what company would want to invest in a franchise that just had their show brutally canceled and abandoned by the general public? If there’s anything that we can take away from the cancellation of The Muppets is that while the characters are perfect for the digital age and it should be a seamless inclusion into modern media, its important that while technology and culture changes, that the characters remain with the same integrity as always, one of the things that worked incredibly well in The Muppets (the 2011 movie) to the point that it was even implemented as a central plot theme. The Muppets sort of act as a better reflection of our world and culture, and whether it’s vaudeville theater in the 70s or Punch Teacher in the 2010s, there’s always an escape of innocence and fun in a changing world, and it’s something that The Muppets should never lose sight of.
I think what’s important for the future of the Muppets as they head into this unknown phase is for Disney to truly focus on re-building the brand, and the best starting point in doing so is going right back to what works in our current culture, and that’s creating original digital content for The Muppets. Because often, the characters are at their best when they are given the freedom to create ideas and wacky stories in short form and the potential that the digital landscape provides is endless for them. The love of experimentation that Jim Henson once had still runs through the veins (or felt?) of these characters and giving the performers and Muppet veterans the ability to bring these characters to life through original content would be the perfect way to re-build the franchise and attain interest in them until what will hopefully be a long-list of Muppet productions after this dreadful hiatus. I think the main problem is that Disney and Disney Interactive realize the potential of giving the Muppets a digital footprint, but aren’t investing nearly enough. Give us more weekly web-series like Pigs in Space, live Q&As, music videos like Kodachrome, and keep putting more focus on the amazing work that the Muppet social media team provides.
The Muppets are masters of experimentation and they’re at their best when trying new things and using creativity to transcend any brand. It only makes sense that the best way to continue the legacy of the characters is to continue to allow them the ability to do so, and while the characters will always have a special place in nostalgia-based pop culture, giving them that opportunity will only help ensure that their ability to create and inspire will only grow. The digital age has opened an endless amount of opportunity for companies to innovate and create truly incredible content. Seeing as how The Muppets exist so much in part to Henson’s love of innovation, it only makes sense that the characters should be given that freedom as well.