It’s time to play the music… it’s time to light the lights! All five seasons of The Muppet Show are finally making their debut on the Disney+ streaming service tomorrow, and in celebration of this momentous occasion, D23 – The Official Disney Fan Club hosted a panel discussion called “A Muppetational Legacy with D23” on its official YouTube channel.
“Host Leigh Slaughter (Vice President, Muppets Studio) is joined by legendary Bill Barretta (Puppeteer, Pepe, Rowlf, Swedish Chef), Dave Goelz (Puppeteer, Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Waldorf), Kevin Bishop (actor, Jim Hawkins), and Brian Henson (Puppeteer, Director, Producer, Chairman of The Jim Henson Company)” and in the bullet-point list below, I’ve enumerated the most fascinating tidbits and factoids we learned during this entertaining conversation.
Watch A Muppetational Legacy with D23:
- Kevin Bishop introduced the panel and host, who all listed their credits with The Muppets and the Jim Henson Company.
- Brian Henson’s favorite project is The Muppet Christmas Carol, because he was so scared of making it and so pleased with the result. “It was a wonderful experience. It was very ambitious.”
- Bill Barretta’s favorite Jim Henson project was Dinosaurs, because it made him part of the team. His second favorite was Muppets Tonight, because he found a new way to express himself through his characters.
- Dave Goelz says he was a Muppet fan since he was in college and saw Jim Henson on The Ed Sullivan Show. He became obsessed and starting making his own puppets. By luck he met his idol and began working for him. His three favorite projects are The Muppet Christmas Carol, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, and Fraggle Rock.
- Brain Henson was hanging out on Muppet soundstages when he was eight years old. “I was just there. It was automatic for me.” He would fly home on breaks from boarding school and stay with his father on the set of The Muppet Show. He made the first penguin Muppet himself, which Frank Oz used in a sketch on the show.
- Henson told a story about the cast and crew of The Muppet Show having to avoid working overtime and being forced to stop working every day at 7:00.
- Dave Goelz says it took him a few years before he “could really cut loose” in his personality on The Muppet Show. The Gonzo puppet was chosen from an earlier project and Goelz built a new version for the second season with more advanced eyes so he could be more high-energy. He calls Gonzo’s transformation into Charles Dickens for The Muppet Christmas Carol “phase 3” of the character.
- Barretta says he wasn’t an avid watcher of The Muppet Show. He worked at the Sesame Place theme park where he met Jim and Brian Henson.
- Goelz’s first movie role was as an extra in Disney’s The Parent Trap.
- Kevin Bishop says it doesn’t feel like 25 years since Muppet Treasure Island. He celebrated his 15th birthday on the set of that film.
- Henson talked about the history of Muppet Treasure Island in the wake of the success of The Muppet Christmas Carol. He says the key to the formula is the contrast of a semi-serious story with the wackier sensibilities of the Muppets. They had also considered doing a Muppets take on The Three Musketeers, but Disney had just green-lit their own live-action adaptation of that story.
- The biggest challenge of making Muppet Treasure Island was avoiding the key scene from the novel in which Jim Hawkins shoots Long John Silver in the face.
- Bishop had to sing a song from the musical Oliver! as part of his audition for the film. He was the first of hundreds of actors to audition for his role as Jim Hawkins. His screen test involved him acting alongside Muppets. He says he genuinely felt a connection with the characters of Rizzo and Gonzo.
- Barretta talked about developing his characters like Clueless Morgan for Muppet Treasure Island and what it was like working on his first Muppet movie.
- Goelz doesn’t remember much about the production of this specific film other than that he had a good time. Bishop says there was a lot of improvisation on set and that he was so impressed with how talented all the performers were.
- Henson talked about having to split all the characters up into different groups in the third act of the film and how crowded the movie felt because of that. “Every shot was so complicated.”
- The group mentioned how fun actress Jennifer Saunders was on set. “She was incredible.”
- Goelz admires the work Tim Curry did in performing the songs for the movie, both in pre-production and on set. Curry wanted to perform live on set because he wanted to play around with the timing of the music. There was one high note he can only hit perfectly while under the pressure of the live performance.
- They talked about some of their favorite scenes and songs from Muppet Treasure Island. Kevin Bishop sang the beginning of the song “Something Better” during the presentation.
- Getting back to the Muppet legacy in general, Bill Barretta says the relationships between the puppeteers and the characters is what makes the Muppets so special. “We all rely on each other to make these characters come alive.”
- Dave Goelz says it’s “empathy and the celebration of life” that make the Muppets work. He then took his camera over to show a photo of him and Jim Henson on location with a quote saying “It’s a good life. Enjoy it.”
- “The greatest theme of my dad’s work was to love each other for your differences, not for your similarities.” Brian Henson talks about his father leaving Mississippi as a child and going on to live and work in Washington, DC promoting the concepts of love and diversity with his puppets.
All five seasons of The Muppet Show will be available to stream beginning tomorrow, February 19 exclusively on Disney+.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.