Mitchell Stein – One year ago today, Walt Disney Creative Department and Walt Disney Imagineering debuted a truly historic addition to their Walt Disney World theme parks with The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History. The idea was quite implausible and ambitious: What if Disney put the Muppets in the heart of The Magic Kingdom’s own Liberty Square themed area, in order to teach guests about Colonial America stories to draw guests into an area that otherwise would get overlooked? Thanks to the brilliant work of so many at Walt Disney’s Park and Resorts and those at The Muppets Studio, it’s an experiment that paid off so flawlessly.
Great Moments features two alternative live shows throughout the day, one of them being the scheduled Declaration of Independence show, which features a human host named James Jefferson or better known as J.J, the Town Crier. The other show features the Muppets without their human assistant and features of the tale of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. In both, dignified patriot Sam the American Eagle attempts to put on a cultural and historically accurate depiction of classic American history, only to be accidentally thwarted by The Muppets and their attempt to add their signature off the wall entertainment. Really, you would think that after forty years with these weirdos, Sam would have figured this out by now.
The road to getting Great Moments into the park was a long journey, with work on the project beginning as far back as the release of Muppets Most Wanted in 2014. But before that, ever since Jim Henson was in negotiations with Michael Eisner in regards to Disney purchasing the characters, many attempts have been made to integrate The Muppets into the Disney theme parks, but that proved difficult considering the look of The Muppets and translating the puppet-like looks of the Muppets into tangible characters that look like the ones you see on your television screen, something where many felt the walk-around Kermit and Miss Piggy did not accomplish. Muppet characters are rarely performed without their assigned performers, so unless Walt Disney World brought in the performers, like say, Eric Jacobson on as a full-time employee to perform Miss Piggy, this would continue to be a big obstacle for Disney’s creative department. A recent experiment seven years ago saw the inclusion of Kermit and Miss Piggy in the Walt Disney’s VoluntEARS Cavalcade Parade with pre-recorded audio tracks, accompanied by brilliant lifelike performances which helped bring these characters to life in a breakthrough new way, even if their puppet size was five times bigger, due to the distance the characters would be from the audience. Six years later, similar techniques would be used to help bring Great Moments in American History to life.
To accomplish the task of translating the magic of The Muppets from such a distance, Disney called on Puppet Heap, who have been building characters and costumes for The Muppets Studio since 2006. Of course, creating this show was a new challenge for the team, since the characters are usually built for on-screen film and television, meaning their scale is far closer to the camera, and wherein the parks, the guests would be standing far away from the characters. In order to solve this, Puppet Heap’s puppet designers would need to create characters larger than the ones seen on-screen. The end result of the show is perfect, and no matter where you stand, the look and feel of the characters are always maintained.
The show comes together from the work of some truly talented special Disney Parks team members, including co-directors Tara Anderson and James Silson, who both brought an endless amount of dedication and creativity in order to find ways to emulate the spirit and zaniness of the characters in this new medium, and their hard work endlessly amazes us. The show also owes much appreciation to Muppet master Jim Lewis, who has been an integral part of writing Muppet content since 1988, who was instrumental in making the show as wacky and hilarious as it is. The show would also not be possible if not for The Muppets Studio vice-president Debbie McClellan’s unending dedication to integrate the Muppets properly into the Disney theme parks. We can wholeheartedly and honestly say that this is not only an achievement that is a testament to the brilliance of The Muppets, an experiment that would surely make Jim Henson proud, but also a promising example of what puppetry and theme park entertainment can accomplish. This show is also not possible without the amazing performers that bring The Muppets to life every single day, who sadly, we haven’t given the information on who to thank, but those performers know who they are of course, and so on behalf of The Muppet Mindset, we’d like to thank each and every one of you for emulating Jim Henson’s legacy each and every day with your incredible performances. The Muppets are in truly great hands. Pun absolutely intended.
One year after this show debuted its grand first performance, we’re so delighted to have the opportunity to thank all of those who put countless hours into bringing it to life, especially those whose contributions we don’t know about, and thanks for giving us the ability to take away this marvelous show in all our minds and hearts.
The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History is performed daily at The Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.