Jarrod Fairclough – Over the past 18 months, it seems that the head honchos at Disney have been more willing to accept and embrace the obvious – The Muppets are puppets, manipulated and embodied by a team of talented men and women who work hard on their craft. Since the Comic Con panel in 2015 for the ill-fated ABC series, we’ve started to see the people we consider heroes finally begin to get a fraction of the attention they deserve. And with a whole documentary on these guys due in a couple of months, could 2018 be the year of the Muppets performer?
Even as recently as the promotion for Muppets Most Wanted in 2014, Disney seemed unwilling to give performers like Matt Vogel, Eric Jacobson and Steve Whitmire the chance to show themselves. At a press junket with human co-stars Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burrell, the performers were relegated to beneath a table, a move that at the time many fans found unnecessary and disrespectful. The performers weren’t really available for interviews, even to us hardcore fans, though we were glad to see them walking the red carpet at the premiere (Video of which you can see here. Whatever happened to that Ryan guy?)
But all that seemed to have changed in 2015 when Steve, Eric, Bill Barretta and Dave Goelz took to the stage at Comic Con, to a rousing success! Suddenly the general public were a little more interested in the men and women behind (and under) these characters. And Disney appeared a little more willing to let these guys show themselves doing what they do best, foregoing the iillusion that Miss Piggy and co. actually went around living lives when not on camera. It continued in 2016 at the Outside Lands Festival, when The Electric Mayhem performed a full live half hour concert, with puppeteers in full view of the crowd (albiet in black full body outfits).
The unpleasantness of the Steve Whitmire firing suddenly made international celebrities of he and Matt Vogel, worrying some that Disney would attempt to perhaps pull back on their recent showing off of the performers. Instead, Disney did the complete opposite, and during last years Hollywood Bowl show, Matt, Bill, Dave, Eric, David Rudman and Peter Linz, as well as all the others, were in full view of the crowd for the vast majority of the show.
And so the revelation that these guys existed continued, and even Sesame Workshop got involved when just a couple of weeks back WIRED released a video where Matt, Ryan Dillon, Marty Robinson, Leslie Carrera-Rudolph and Frankie Cordero starred, each talking about the mechanics of their most famous characters. Jim Henson always said he had no concerns showing the audience how these characters work, even making a whole episode of The Jim Henson Hour dedicated to it.
So we come to 2018, and in just a couple of months the Frank Oz directed documentary ‘Muppet Guys Talking’, starring he, Dave, Bill, Fran Brill and the late Jerry Nelson, will be released, again shooting these guys in to the minds of the general public. Disney are also apparently letting the performers have more of a say on what the characters do, which is something that Frank Oz recently advised as the right move in his Reddit AMA, saying:
I believe Disney really loves the Muppets and they really want to do their best for them. But my answer is not to go in a different direction for them, my answer is to get deeper into the purity of the characters. And that can be done by getting Bill Barretta and Dave Goelz and other performers who know the characters very well. It’s the purity of the characters, the purity of intent that connects with people in my opinion.
So with Disney (and Sesame) becoming more willing to make celebrities of these guys, we’re excited to see just what this means as we enter this year. We’d love to see more things like the WIRED video, like 2015’s Comic Con panel, and heck, if we’re really wishing hard, more things like the Hollywood Bowl show and ‘Muppet Guys Talking’. Only time will tell.