Yesterday a regular reader of this blog (whatever that means anymore, given my posting schedule) brought up the topic of Steve Whitmire’s firing as the performer of Kermit the Frog by Disney.
He asked me, earnestly, what I thought of the whole kerfuffle and whether I’d seen Steve’s new blog.
I’ll answer reverse-chronologically:
No, I had not seen Steve Whitmire’s blog, until yesterday and now I have. Start reading it at the beginning. It’s … something.
Reading a blog – especially one of someone creative and new to blogging – can be a raw, harrowing experience. It’s clear that Steve Whitmire is a passionate person but it’s also clear that he’s too close to the situation to be a reliable narrator.
I think the real issue stems from where the line between the performer and the character is drawn. In the case of the Muppets, the performer is even more important than an actor or a voice performer. They literally inhabit the character by putting their arm inside of the felt.
For all intents and purposes Steve Whitire was Kermit.
But the problem here is that there are writers and producers and directors involved in the ongoing life of the Muppet franchise.
There were two theatrical films in the past 10 years and a (flawed) TV show. They all succeeded in some ways and fell short in others.
The first film was excellent and the second was pretty good, if uneven. The TV show never really found it’s own voice, partly due to the fact that it didn’t take advantage of any of the characterizations or storylines from the films.
But mostly the issue is that The Muppets need to evolve in order to be a sustainable, vital part of Disney’s portfolio. Steve Whitmire, by his own admissions, seems tied to a very narrow vision of the characters that was not shared by Disney, the Henson family, and potentially even some of his fellow performers.
Whatever the true issues may have been, Disney seems to have moved on and Steve Whitmire hasn’t. He’s still wrestling with how and why he was fired and my heart goes out to him.
But the fact remains that Disney & the Henson family clearly have one set of feelings about his performance and behavior and he has another. The preponderance of the evidence leads me to side with Disney, but I still sympathize with Steve over the loss of his job and empathize with him that he wants to understand exactly why things happened the way they did.
From my perspective The Muppets still need to evolve.
In a world when Kermit’s likeness has been co-opted sipping tea to indicate a sarcastic comment the Muppets have to be more contemporary than they are.
Listen, I loved The Muppet Show of my youth. There’s a reason the blog has the title it does & why I have the username “mostlymuppet” on every service imaginable.
I LOVE THE MUPPETS.
And even I know that the movies and the tv show are part of making them more relevant to people today. You can’t survive on pure nostalgia and zero character growth, just ask The Simpsons.
I just hope Steve Whitmire finds some peace. It sounds (reads) like he’s getting closer to that but it must be traumatic to lose something that you’ve done for 27 years and separate from a group you’ve been associated with since the late 70’s.
I wish Steve and the Muppets nothing but the best in the future.
I’ll be here, watching.