Disney Firing Kermit Sounds Really Suspicious Following the Failure of ABC’s ‘The Muppets’

Matthew Loffhagen
Disney
(Photo: Disney)

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.”

Woah.

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.

Share on Twitter

Conversations

  • ReviewTheFacts

    A couple of things worth mentioning. There are egos in Hollywood, and for anyone who questions authority, there are hundreds if not thousands standing in the wings to take their place.
    Also, Disney is no stranger to unilaterally firing someone without reason or explanation. Case in point, the young actor Bobby Driscoll, who was the boy in the Disney film, Treasure Island. He also was the motion actor and the voice of Disney’s Peter Pan. The official line was that Bobby Driscoll wasn’t handsome enough for hero work, and they “had trouble” in deciding what parts to give him. In addition, he developed acne. So, they fired him.
    Driscoll tried to transition to regular high school, with little success–kids can be cruel, especially to someone who “made it” in films and then was cast off. He turned to drugs, got in trouble with the law, spent time in jail, hit his personal low point, then got his act together. Only now, his reputation preceded him, and he couldn’t find further work as an actor. He moved to New York, hoping to make it on Broadway, but his reputation preceded him there, too.
    He was found dead in a deserted building by a couple of boys, dead a heart attack from drink and his prior stint as a druggie, and was buried in a pauper’s grave, where is body still lies. It was only later that fingerprints identified him as the former star.
    Walt Disney had a conscience, though. From that time on, there was counseling available for former Disney kid actors, to try to ease them back into regular society. When Disney died, however, the bean counters took over. You can see the result with the former actor from one of the Disney sitcoms who committed suicide, and the out of control behavior of the former Hannah Montana.
    With regard to the Muppet negotiations, Jim Henson had second thoughts after dealing with the prolonged, unilateral demands of the Disney Corporation. It weighed heavily on him, and may have contributed to his physical exhaustion prior to his death. He was burning the candle at both ends to keep Muppet productions going, and the negotiations in addition.
    Immediately after Jim Henson died, the Disney Corporation demanded a lower price for the Muppets, as Jim Henson was “such a major part of the Muppets” that it “devalued the brand.”
    That all 5 of Henson’s kids had to jump in and run the company says something about the level of involvement with The Muppets. They did it, though, and survived.
    With regard to Steve Whitmire, yes, he had an ego, but so did Brian. Some people we all work with we may not get along well with. We work with them anyway. Part of being a grown up.
    It remains to be seen what Disney does with the Muppets. They haven’t done much with them. There is little or no promotion of the brand at Disneyland or Cali Adventure, very few products (we’re still waiting for seasons 4 and 5 of the original Muppet Show on DVD), the reboot of the ABC Muppet Show was dreadful, as the writing has Kermit the butt of insults and derision, rather than the reluctant hero and everyman (traits similar to Mickey Mouse) that we’ve all known from the original show.
    We identify with Kermit, and we wouldn’t like to be subject to insults. It was as though the Muppet folk were actors hired to play these characters, and that it didn’t reflect who the Muppets, themselves were as themselves. I wish Disney would realize this, and quit trying to change them into something they aren’t. How would they like it if Mickey Mouse were suddenly cast as the unwitting lackey in the Office? Bleahhh! No wonder people tuned out! In an interview, Frank Oz said that he watched only 15 minutes and then tuned out. He also said that he declined to take part in the Disney Muppet Movie, as he felt they’d changed the characters.
    So, there’s more than one side to things, isn’t there? Nothing is simple. It’s made harder when people don’t respect each other. Disney Co, Brian and Cheryl, and Steve, can’t we all just get along?