It’s important to bear in mind that the story surrounding Steve Whitmire, the actor who’s portrayed Kermit the Frog consistently since the death of Jim Henson, is still not entirely clear. There are facts missing and details that haven’t been made public, so jumping to conclusions would do everyone involved a disservice.
That said, there’s something really fishy going on here.
Earlier this week, Disney announced that Whitmire, the longtime voice and hands behind everyone’s favorite froggy MC, would be stepping down from his most famous role.
Now, in a personal blog post from Whitmire, he’s revealed that he didn’t jump – he was pushed.
“For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable, impossible to resist way of life. This is my life’s work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero.
“As I am sure you can imagine, I have experienced every possible emotion since October 2016, when I received a phone call from The Muppets Studio’s executives to say they were recasting. Through a new business representative, I have offered multiple remedies to their two stated issues which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call. I wish that we could have sat down, looked each other in the eye, and discussed what was on their minds before they took such a drastic action.
“I have remained silent the last nine months in hopes that the Disney company might reverse their course. Doing what is best for the Muppets is the lens through which all my interactions have been filtered. Given the opportunity I remain willing to do whatever is required to remedy their concerns because I feel my continued involvement with the characters is in the best interest of the Muppets.”
Of course, the easy reaction to this kind of report is to assume that Disney is some big, great, moneygrabbing ogre that’s cut Whitmire loose without being willing to hear his side of the story.
As perfectly as the House of Mouse fits the stereotype of an uncaring megacorp, though, it’s not fair to jump to conclusions and assume that the blame rests entirely on Disney – at least, not without further details.
Certainly, there are apparently “two stated issues” involved in Whitmire’s firing that he’s chosen not to elaborate on, for whatever reason (bearing in mind that there might be a non-disclosure agreement involved).
That said, whatever may have gone down recently, it’s hard not to view this in the context of the recent utter failure of ABC’s The Muppets.
Following the success of the recent movie of the same name (and the slightly smaller success of Muppets Most Wanted), a return to television for everyone’s favorite fuzzy friends made perfect sense. Naturally, this new remake of the classic Jim Henson television show would air on ABC, because by now, the entire Muppet family (sans Sesame Street) is wholly owned by Disney, who also own the popular TV network.
The resulting show, though, didn’t exactly turn out as fantastically as people might have hoped.
But hey, don’t take our word for it – here’s the opinion of one YouTuber who definitely knows his stuff when it comes to Muppets:
In case you can’t drop whatever you’re doing to watch a review of The Muppets pilot episode, in the above video, Arlo notes that the mockumentary formula is a little overdone, that the show lacks zaniness, and that the constant references to drugs and sex feel wholly out of place for a group of optimistic, innocent characters like the Muppets.
All in all, this opinion was felt pretty widely, and it wasn’t long before low viewing figures caused Disney to pull the plug on the show.
We got seventeen episodes in all, before the announcement was made last May that the show was finished. Then, five months later, Steve Whitmire was told by Disney that he was fired.
There’s no genuine proof that the two events here are connected, but the timeline does seem to add up. It’s completely believable that, after facing the demise of The Muppets, Disney executives spent a few months trying to come up with a plan to revitalize the brand – for whatever reason, that plan seems to involve replacing the actor behind the most famous Muppet of them all.
All said, as much as Disney really deserves the benefit of the doubt here, it’s incredibly hard to see them as the victims in all this. Certainly, the company definitely deserves the blame for making a horrendously misjudged Muppets television series, even if we don’t know the specifics behind their decision to axe Steve Whitmire following the show’s cancellation.
This story’s no doubt going to develop more in the coming weeks and months, so it’s worth staying tuned to see what Whitmire reveals next, and where Disney takes the Muppets brand next (as they’ve clearly got something in the works).
One thing in all this is certain, though: this specific chain of events certainly wouldn’t have played out the same were the Jim Henson company still in the hands of its founder.