Leading up to Disney’s “The Muppets” movie, there was a strong media campaign that was hard to miss. Just a few of the promotions included viral videos, a huge Facebook fan base, and numerous merchandise tie-ins.
Included is a new line of Star Wars Muppets Action Figures, which arrived at Disney theme park gift shops in Fall 2011 and are now seeming hard to come by. Toy prototypes of classic Muppet personalities dressed up as Star Wars characters were on display at Star Wars Weekends.
Steven Miller, the Merchandise Communications Manager for DisneyParks, shared a couple of early photos of the Star Wars + The Muppets mashup. He discovered the fun mock-up designs on the desk of Cody Hampton, the Associate Product Developer for Toys and Games.
The Muppets aren’t strangers to the cast of Star Wars. Back in 1980, Mark Hamill, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca appeared on The Muppet Show for a special “Star Wars” episode.
Disney had also teamed up with Marvel to produce a large format comic, “Meet the Muppets.” The comic features art by Roger Langridge, and was in stores from July 2011.
From the comedic video parodies to trailer spoofs and television appearances (SNL comes to mind), it appears that Disney reintroduced Jim Henson’s cast of characters to a new audience while sparking new interest in the original viewership with a dose of nostalgia.
The Walt Disney Company acquired The Muppets franchise from The Jim Henson Company back in 2004. Although there were were earlier attempts to forge a relationship with Disney while Jim Henson was still living in the 1980s, they never quite saw eye-to-eye. Following the absence of Henson, there were various collaborations with Disney in the 1990s. Out of that relationship came “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island” movies.
In recent years, especially through viral music videos, the Muppets stayed relevant and continuously evolved with comedic interactions relating with popular culture. The music video of Queen + The Muppets "Bohemian Rhapsody," released in 2009, went viral garnering over 20 million views.
The well-produced spoof earned The Muppet Studio a Webby Award. Recognition came again with a Webby nomination the following year for “The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora” web series. To promote the upcoming Muppets movie, a Hangover II spoof trailer was released entitled “The Fuzzy Pack.” And I have to admit that I was surprised the first time I watched the teaser trailer for the romantic comedy "Green with Envy," starring Amy Adams and Jason Segel.
Jim Henson’s Muppets have a long and complex history, dating back to the late 1950s when a variation of Kermit appeared on the short puppet show, Sam and Friends. The Muppet Show (Pilot) aired in 1975. Below is a video of a sketch on “Visual Thinking.”
above: unused artwork for The Muppet Movie by Richard Amsel
“The Muppet Movie” c. 1979 (above poster art by Drew Struzan) came with a winning soundtrack, including the song “The Rainbow Connection.” Can Disney replicate the success of Henson’s original film? The new film, The Muppets, will be in theaters opened on November 23rd, 2011. It’s riding on the hope that the Muppet characters are timeless and the contemporary cast of actors will lure in viewership. Jason Segel and Amy Adams have the leading roles, and there will be many cameos including Chris Cooper, John Krasinski, Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Emily Blunt, and so many more (voices only?).
Initially, I was skeptical of Disney’s mass revival of The Muppets’ legacy sans the genius of Jim Henson himself. But, through my research I've realized that many of the marketing tactics used by Disney to promote the brand and upcoming movie aren’t that dissimilar from promotion techniques used by Jim Henson, as seen earlier in his career and and in later years.
UPDATE 11/26: This reviewer found that it not only lived up to the hype, but it went above and beyond with its superbly executed story and score.
Jim Henson already laid out the road map: comedic spoofs featuring loveable characters, slapstick humor appealing to an older audience, using puppets to advertise products in commercials, and a vast assortment of timely celebrity cameos. The Muppets made their first appearance together on "The Today Show" in 1960 and continued to visit the late night shows throughout the decades. It now seems very fitting for The Muppets to join the NBC stage with Jimmy Fallon multiple times.
The movie is directed by James Bobin, a co-creator of HBO’s The Flight of the Conchords, and the screenplay is by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.