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The "Muppets on Location" street show -- because it was going to be so much cheaper to produce than the full-blown "The Magnificent Muppet All-Star Parade/Motorcade" parade -- was actually put into production first. Jim Henson, Frank Oz, David Goelz & Richard Hunt recorded vocals for this show in the early Spring of 1990. The rolling sets were already under construction. Everything was right on schedule for "The Muppets on Location" to debut at Disney / MGM during the summer of 1990 ...
And then Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990 ...
Nine days later, the "Here Comes the Muppets" show -- an indoor musical show that featured the Muppet walk-around characters -- made its debut at Disney/MGM. This cute little stage revue (which featured the Electric Mayhem making its grand entrance by crashing a monorail through the side of the theater) ran at this Mickey Avenue venue 'til September 2, 1991.
But -- for a time -- "Here Come the Muppets" was the only show that featured the Henson characters that Eisner would allow to be presented at Disney/MGM. For days after Henson's untimely death, there were meetings at the highest most levels at the Walt Disney Company about whether it was unseemly -- disrespectful even -- to have Kermit & Co. perform in the park so soon after Jim Henson's untimely death. Disney's executives puzzled endlessly about what an appropriate period of mourning should be, when it would be okay for Miss Piggy & pals to finally start making regular appearances at Disney / MGM again.
In the end, a compromise was reached. Since Disney's PR materials had already been sent out, hyping the mid-May opening of the "Here Come the Muppets" stage show, that show would be allowed to go forward as scheduled. But the "Muppets on Location" street show was on indefinite hold. At least until Disney management thought it was decent for Kermit & Co. to appear in public again.
Of course, over the summer of 1990, relations between Jim Henson Productions and the Walt Disney Company soured. In November of that same year, the Henson family decided to break off merger talks with the Mouse. Which left Disney/MGM's "Muppets on Location" street show in the lurch.
No one knew quite what to do here. If Disney wasn't going to own the Muppets, did that mean that the company still had the rights to present shows that Jim Henson had produced for the company prior to his death? Disney's lawyers conferred with the Henson folks and -- after some head-butting -- eventually reached an agreement.
According to the terms of this deal, the Walt Disney Company legally had the rights to present the two Muppet shows that Jim Henson had produced for their company prior to his passing at the Disney / MGM Studio Theme Park: the "Jim Henson's MuppetVision 3D" film and the "Muppets on Location" street show. However, one of the conditions of this agreement specifically prevented Disney from using the Muppet characters in any parades at the studio theme park. To do so would imply that the Walt Disney Company actually owned the Muppets (Or -- at least -- so thought the Henson family lawyers).
This is why the parade element of the "Muppets on Location: Days of Swine & Roses" show got dropped. And -- given that Disney no longer felt all warm and fuzzy about Kermit & Co. -- this is why the company didn't put a lot of money into the presentation of that particular show. Which explains the whole loading dock stage concept.
The "Muppets on Location: Days of Swine & Roses" debuted at Disney/MGM on September 16, 1991 (Just two weeks after the "Here Come the Muppets" show had closed to make way for "The Voyage of the Little Mermaid" show). It ran for about three years, then closed quietly in the late summer of 1995.
As for those rolling stage pieces that were built specifically for the "Muppets on Location" street show ... Well, they actually made their Disney/MGM debut about this same time. Only -- instead of having Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other Muppets on board -- it was Earl, Fran, Charlene and Robbie Sinclair who were waving down at the crowds starting on September 26, 1991.
Yep, the stars of ABC's "Dinosaurs" TV series (A co-production Disney's Touchstone Television & Jim Henson Productions) won the rights to use these rolling set pieces pretty much by default. Their "Dinosaurs -- Live!" show ran at the studio theme park from the Fall of 1991 through August 29, 1992. That street show is best remembered today mostly for its scantily clad cavewomen dancers, who shook their leopard-skin covered booties to Was (Was Not)'s hit, "Walk the Dinosaur."
Meanwhile -- back in the summer of 1990 -- folks who took the Disney/MGM tour were puzzled by all the earth-moving equipment that they saw rumbling around next to New York Street. On their way out to Catastrophe Canyon, they passed a huge white construction fence that featured pictures of Sweetums & Robin the Frog, both wearing yellow construction hats.
What did that sign on the construction fence say again? "Coming in 1993 - Muppets Studios?"
Coming in the next installment of the Disney/Muppet series: Join the Great Gonzo on an ill-informed ride through Hollywood history on the Muppet Movie Ride. Plus dining with the Swedish Chef at Muppet Studio's Pandemonium Pizza Parlor.
- Part One of this article
- Part Two of this article
- Part Three of this article
- Part Five of this article
-- Jim Hill
Jim Hill can be reached using the Talkback form below or by emailing him at [email protected].
Jim Hill is this guy who lives 'way out in the woods of New Hampshire. (Hey, it's not like he wants to live there. But the Witness Protection Program has got rules, you know.) He has one beautiful daughter and three obnoxious cats. When he's not looking for real work, Jim writes about the Walt Disney Company and related matters for LaughingPlace.com, AmusementPark.com, "Orlando Weekly" and Digital Media FX.
The opinions expressed by Jim Hill, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the past decisions and future plans of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.
-- Posted August 14, 2001