For all you geek dads and geek moms who grew up loving the Muppets and want to foster the same love in your kids, help is on the way, sort of. The New York Times has reported that Disney is finally putting the money and resources into marketing the Muppets that they deserve. Some of the methods Disney has chosen for marketing them may make you cringe, but it might be worth it if it helps create a new generation of Muppet fans.
When Disney bought (most of) the Muppets four years ago, many Muppets fans, including me, weren’t quite sure if we should be happy or sad. On the one hand, Disney had the resources and the marketing experience to really do great things with the Muppets, which the German media company that had previously owned them didn’t; but, on the other hand, the great thing about the Muppets had always been that their humor was mainly aimed at adults, and Disney’s always been best aiming at kids. Anyone who watched the first "Studio DC: Almost Live" special last month would not have been encouraged, since the humor was all aimed squarely at kids, and the show played like nothing more than a half-hour ad for Disney’s teen and tween stars. And they’re doing another one next month, which I dread, but my kids will insist on watching it.
I give Disney full marks for the "Muppet Show" DVD sets they’ve been releasing. My kids have watched nearly every episode of the three seasons released thus far, and they absolutely love them—my son even went as the Swedish Chef for Halloween last year. But they’re missing the point entirely about what made "The Muppet Show" and the better movies and even some episodes of "Muppets Tonight" so good, which was that the Muppets were always the stars of the show. What made the guest stars and movie cameos work so well was not that the Muppets were dealing with them, but that they were dealing with the Muppets. I don’t want to see Kermit on "Nightline" interviewing politicians; think how much better it would be if the "Nightline" anchors interviewed Kermit as though he were a politician. I don’t want to see Miss Piggy try to join the Jonas Brothers when it would be much funnier to have the Jonas Brothers try to sing in the middle of a loony "Muppet Show"-style sketch.
So I’m glad to see more Muppet marketing, because I really want everyone in the next generation to love the Muppets as much as my wife and I, and now our kids, do. But I wish they’d stick to more of the kind of humor they’re doing in the short sketches on the Disney Video Muppets channel, which has some great new bits. Watch the videos there and buy the DVDs, and hope that Disney will see that they need to let the Muppets be the Muppets. What good will it do to get kids to like the Muppets if they lose their essential Muppetness in the process?