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When You Wish Upon a ... Frog?!
As Jim Hill continues his series about the convoluted relations between the Walt Disney Company and Jim Henson Production, he now talks about two Muppet street shows that were proposed for Disney / MGM Studios that didn't go quite according to plan ...
Maybe it would be better if I didn't write this.
Trust me, folks. Your life will be a whole lot easier if you don't know about this stuff. All the fun you missed out on because the original Disney / Muppet merger didn't go through. I've known about this stuff for over 10 years now and -- to be honest -- having this info in my head just about ruined Disney / MGM for me. And MGM used to be my favorite out of all four of Disney's Florida theme parks.
These days, I go into that park, wander back to where "Jim Henson's MuppetVision 3D" is and then ... Well, I just get wistful. Thinking about the other great Muppet related stuff that was supposed to be built back in this corner of the park. The Great Gonzo's Pizza Pandemonium Parlor. The Muppet Movie Ride ... Plus those wonderful Muppet themed street shows and parades that Jim Henson & the Imagineers had whipped up that were all ready to go ...
And it's never going to happen now. All because -- 'way back in November of 1990 -- some greedy Disney attorney thought that he could get a marginally better deal on the Muppets if he leaned just a little harder on the still grieving Henson family ...
Okay. Let's not talk about that stuff yet. We have plenty of time to get to the sad part of the story. For now, let's just concentrate on what I like to call the Muppet Nearly-Wases: The parade & street show that were supposed to have preceded MuppetVision 3D into Disney/MGM.
There are probably a few of you out there who managed to catch the Muppets in their earliest performances at Disney / MGM. This was back in the winter of 1989 / spring of 1990 -- when the characters' appearances in the park were limited to Kermit & Miss Piggy's extended cameo toward the end of "Hollywood's Pretty Women" (This is the stage show that used to be presented at the old Theater of the Stars. Back when this Hollywood Bowl knock-off was located just off of Hollywood Boulevard, rather being hidden behind a hillside on Sunset Boulevard).
Anyway ... The gist of the Muppets "Hollywood's Pretty Women" performance is that Kermit came out & did a quick number with the chorus girls. Then the backstage gates next to the theater opened and Miss Piggy -- in all her splendor -- rolled out in front of the audience in the Theater of the Stars, riding in an enormous pink chauffeured Cadillac. Climbing out of her car, Piggy got up on stage and did a number (A great tune whose title escapes me at the moment) which stopped the show cold. Then Kermit, Piggy & pink Cadillac exited and the chorus went into the usual finale for the show.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Jim Henson & Disney CEO Michael Eisner wanted to do with the Muppet characters at Disney/MGM. Not treat them like Mickey & Minnie and restrict the characters to just being cute as they interacted with guests, signing autographs & posing for pictures. Jim & Michael wanted to let the Muppets loose. Let them spread their special brand of chaos around the place. Maybe mix it up with the streetmosphere players on Hollywood Boulevard.
Toward this end, Disney poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the development of two Muppet street shows that were supposed to debut in the Summer of 1990: "The Magnificent Muppet All-Star Parade" and the "Muppets on Location" show.
The first of these two -- which also went by the name "The Magnificent Muppet All-Star Motorcade," by the way (The Imagineers & Henson never quite pinned down what they wanted to call this one) -- was going to be a street parade that would have been every Muppet fans' dream. To quote the description of the show that was listed in the "Disney Crew 1990" newsletter:
"The Magnificent Muppet All-Star Parade hits Hollywood Boulevard every day with curbside capers in a rolling parade of lovable lunacy that will feature Muppet characters, the Muppets' own Electric Mayhem Band, vintage cars and the legendary Muppet Tour Bus."
What's amazing about this is that -- in addition to this full-blown Muppet parade (Which was supposed to run daily at 1 pm.) -- Eisner & Henson also wanted Kermit & Co. to do a second elaborate street show that would run twice daily (11 a.m. and 4 p.m.) At those times, the gates next to Oscar's Classic Cars & Super Service would fly open and a large camera crane rig -- with a walk-around version of the Great Gonzo seated high in the air, right next to the camera -- would roll out from backstage. A two story mobile set -- on which Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem would be tuning up on the bottom floor while Miss Piggy & Kermit rehearsed and studied their lines on the upper floor -- would follow close behind.
Fozzie and Scooter -- who were supposed to be production assistants for this skit -- would follow along on foot accompanied by Disney/MGM's streetmosphere characters. The bunch of them would interact with the crowds along Hollywood Boulevard as this all-star procession made its way to the top of the street. Once there ... Well, quoting from John McClintock's "The Muppets Team Up With Mickey" article from the Summer 1990 issue of "Disney News":
"A Muppet film crew sets up right in front of the Studio's Chinese Theater for 'The Muppets on Location.' Walt Disney World performers and the celebrated "streetmosphere" characters of the Disney/MGM Studios join Kermit, Piggy, the Great Gonzo and "Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem" (the Muppet house band) to give spectators a preview of a Muppet work-in-progress."
And what was the name of the movie that the Muppets were supposed to be shooting in front of the Chinese Theater? "The Days of Swine & Roses."
"Now wait a minute, Jim," I hear all you hard-core Muppets fans out there saying. "Isn't that the name of that little meet-n-greet show that the Muppet walk-around characters used to do out on those loading docks that were located behind 'Jim Henson's MuppetVision 3D' ?" Yes, it is, folks ... and this is where the story gets interesting. And somewhat sad.