Back in 2003, after spending a few years in the clutches of a German conglomerate, the beloved Muppet characters were reacquired by the family of Jim Henson. Who quickly sold them to Disney. But when the Hensons got them back, in that short window, I prepared the following commentary…
August 9, 2003
The rise and fall of the Muppet empire
It’s a sad fact of life, friends, that we live in a world where unprovoked violence can happen without warning. Where even the most innocent among us can be singled out and persecuted for something as simple as the way we look. But enough about the NBA.
Even the most stone-hearted people must throw their hands in the air in outrage at recent events in Middletown, Pa. According to the Associated Press, while working at a theme park a person dressed as the character Telly from “Sesame Street” had to be hospitalized after a guest of the park “shoved an umbrella” into his stomach.
The suspect in this case, Hiram Cruz of New York City, apparently took this action because he “felt that Telly was bothering him in some way.”
Well heck, if that’s the criteria then I have a ready-made defense if I ever popped my top and took an umbrella to most fast food employees, my mailman or Justin Timberlake. That doesn’t mean I’m going to do it, though.
And why Telly, of all Muppets? Shy, innocuous Telly, who never hurt anybody, didn’t deserve this sort of treatment. Oh Elmo, sure, I think most of us can imagine situations where we would gladly pay to see Elmo skewered at the end of a pike, but Telly?
Sadly, this is just the latest in a rash of goofy character-related tragedies over the past few months. It was national news, of course, when a six-foot Italian Sausage was hit by a baseball bat during a foot race against a hot dog and a bratwurst. The beloved Mickey Mouse was reduced to tears when he was informed by the Walt Disney Corporation and Shadow Government that he was going to be “reimagined for the 21st Century,” which of course is code for “we’re too stupid to think up good stories with you the way you are so we’re going to start animating you by computer and hope that makes a difference.”
But no characters have fallen as hard as the Muppets have. After the company founded by Jim Henson was sold to a German conglomerate a few years ago, these plush characters that once commanded a worldwide empire were reduced to Denny’s commercials and TV movies guest-starring the likes of Matthew Lillard.
“We once had Bob Hope and Edgar Bergen in the same movie,” one anonymous Muppet source recently said to me. “What happened to us?”
Where once this ensemble created such masterpieces as “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Muppet Babies,” “Fraggle Rock” and the Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Muppet Family Christmas,” they were now struggling for work.
“Kermit just sits around all day watching the DVD of ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ over and over again. The pig has gained about 20 pounds gorging herself on Bon-Bons… even Gonzo’s nose is starting to droop,” said the anonymous Muppet.
Things reached their lowest point last October when the Cookie Monster filed a lawsuit against Nabisco and Keebler, claiming that a diet of Oreos and ELFudge cookies contributed to his blood sugar condition.
“Me couldn’t help myself,” a weeping Mr. Monster said at a press conference. “Cookies shaped like little elves! What was me to do?”
Cookie Monster won the case and was awarded $5.6 million in the settlement. The courtroom was immediately seized with cheers, shouts of relief and one lone voice that just kept repeating, “Five-point-six million dollars! Hah, hah, hah!” accompanied by bursts of lightning.
“That was awful,” my anonymous Muppet source said about the drama. “Sure, Cookie got that honorary Emmy for teaching kids about the dangers of trans fatty acids, but we’d never tried to get beyond ‘C is for Cookie’ before. A lot of us felt he went too far. He and Big Bird got into this nasty screaming match and it took the Snuffalupagus and all three of those horn-honking monsters to keep them apart.”
Things may finally be turning around for the Muppets, though. The children of Jim Henson recently bought the company their father founded back from the Germans for about half what they sold it for, a move that had the Muppets cheering.
“The Germans didn’t really know what to do with us,” Gobo Fraggle told the New York Post. “They kept telling us to whip the Doozers and set booby traps for the Gorgs… we just don’t work that way, man.”
“Things are much better now,” my anonymous Muppet source said in a telephone interview last week. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this, but we’ve got a lot of new TV and movie deals in the works, we’re writing skits and composing again, Piggy is negotiating to become the new spokespig for Weight Watchers, and I’ve even got a whole new routine. Want to hear part of it? Okay, here goes — Why couldn’t Kermit and Miss Piggy get married in a melon patch? Give up? Because they ‘Cantaloupe’! Get it? Wokka wok — Aw nuts. The frog is gonna kill me.”
Blake M. Petit’s goal in life is to become just famous enough to get on-screen with a Muppet. This is probably the closest he’ll ever get, so don’t disillusion him. Contact him with comments, suggestions or even worse jokes than that last one at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.