It’s hard to imagine someone not falling in love with — or at least being charmed by — The Muppets in all of their tender, felted magic. But apparently, loving the puppet doesn’t always equate to loving the puppeteer. According to Frank Oz — the beloved puppeteer originally behind Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Animal, and iconic Sesame Street characters like Cookie Monster and Bert — Disney “doesn’t want” to work with him anymore.
Oz hasn’t been involved with The Muppets or The Jim Henson Company since 2007. Fans long assumed that he retired in favor of more acting roles in films like Knives Out, but in a new interview with The Guardian, the actor revealed that he didn’t put the job on hold by choice.
“I’d love to do The Muppets again, but Disney doesn’t want me, and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me for 10 years,” he said. “They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in.”
Jim Henson’s beloved Muppets characters were purchased by Disney back in 2004. Ever since then, things have changed, especially in the eyes of Oz. “The soul’s not there. The soul is what makes things grow and be funny,” he said. “There’s an inability for corporate America to understand the value of something they bought. They never understood, with us, it’s not just about the puppets, it’s about the performers who love each other and have worked together for many years.”
It’s upsetting to learn that Oz, and likely other long-time puppeteers for The Muppets, have been held at arm’s length from a series in which they once played a crucial part. Henson always instilled a genuine love of life, friends, and family in his work. While that’s not totally absent in Disney’s recent additions to the cannon, like the 2011 movie The Muppets, Oz does believe there’s a firm “demarcation line between the Jim Henson Muppets and the Disney Muppets.”
At the time of Henson’s death, he was in negotiations to sell The Muppets to the Mouse House with then-head of Disney Michael Eisner. Oz believes that business deal ultimately lead to Henson’s demise. “The Disney deal is probably what killed Jim. It made him sick,” Oz told The Guardian. “Eisner was trying to get Sesame Street, too, which Jim wouldn’t allow. But Jim was not a dealer, he was an artist, and it was destroying him, it really was.”
All of this is very depressing to read, especially when news about The Muppets is usually delightful by nature of the subject itself. If you understandably need to cheer yourself up, at least The Muppet Show is still available to watch on Disney+ in all of its original glory, especially compared to the company’s attempted reboot Muppets Now.