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Has Disney Recast Kermit the Frog? Is This the End of the Muppets?

Kermit the FrogLong time Muppet fans had a rude surprise on Wednesday night when Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy performed a duet on America’s Got Talent.

As we all know, Kermit the Frog was created and performed by Muppet creator Jim Henson. Though Kermit began as an ensemble player in early Muppet projects, he soon became the puppet troupes’ lead character. When Henson died unexpectedly some 19 years ago, it was speculated that Kermit might not continue without him.

Happily, the role of Kermit was awarded to Steve Whitmire, a longtime Muppeteer who’d been performing alongside Henson for more than 10 years. His regular characters up until that point included Rizzo the Rat, Wembley Fraggle, and Bean Bunny.

Interestingly, prior to his death, Henson had been thinking about asking Whitmire to replace him as Kermit on occasions. In a 1999 interview with Muppet Central, Whitmire recalled, “I have been told that Jim had said something about it to Frank [Oz]. Not that I would perform Kermit when he died, but that he would need somebody else to do Kermit some of the time because he was so busy.”

Though it took Whitmire some time to get fully comfortable with the character, he has made Kermit his own. While the Muppet interviews and appearances are scripted, it’s not uncommon for the performers to have to make things up on the spot. That’s part of what makes the Muppets unique.

Steve WhitmireIn an interview at the TV Land Awards, Whitmire commented, “If you play my voice next to Jim’s voice, they’re not the same. They’re very close, and the attitude is very close. And because I had the experience of working with Jim very closely, and knowing him, I think I gained some insight into where this character came from, from within Jim. So the number one goal in trying to continue a character like Kermit was making sure the character was the same and consistent, but didn’t become stale and just a copy. We wanted him to continue to be able to grow a bit, but also have this foundation of where Jim started… We’ve always been dubbed the ‘Muppet performers,’ and it involves acting and it involves the puppetry, and all those skills combined.”

In 2004, Disney bought the Muppet characters from the Henson company. While many fans were hopeful that the Muppets wouldn’t change, they couldn’t help but be nervous that the corporate and very cost-conscious “House of Mouse” would be making some changes — particularly when it came to the Muppet performers.

Does it matter who performs Kermit?

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In 2005, Disney held open auditions for puppeteers to cast “alternate” performers for the main Muppet characters like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Gonzo the Great. It was feared that Disney would begin substituting different performers for the Muppeteers that had always performed the characters and, in some cases, had created them.

A few months later, Muppeteers Dave Goelz and Whitmire were replaced in their roles as Statler and Waldorf (the two old guys in the balcony) on Movies.com. The movie review segments ended in June 2006.

This week, Kermit and Miss Piggy made a special appearance on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. For the first time since Henson’s death, Kermit was not performed by Whitmire in a major venue. It’s not clear why Whitmire was replaced or if it’s a permanent change but it’s obvious to Muppet lovers that the substitute performer wasn’t up to the task.

Sadly, the general public may not have noticed that Whitmire had been replaced or even care that he was. If Disney feels like they can replace the veteran Muppet performers to save some money and no one notices, they surely will. If that happens, part of what has made the characters so beloved over the years will go away.

What do you think? Compare a performance by Whitmire’s Kermit on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon eight years ago with the recent America’s Got Talent performance. See any difference?

 

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Youtube April 9, 2011 at 2:15 am

Well it looks like disney or youtube does not like your clip online, it took it down, since it’s copyright or they just didn’t like you comparing voices of disney copyright stuff, but really the muppet show and movies was the best for its time

END OF Line…. next up, muppets meet Tron 3 movie , ya disney doing that next maybe or not//!#$#!@%##1 just add a few characters HERE too

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admin April 9, 2011 at 3:30 am

@Youtube: We didn’t post the clip, someone else did.

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David June 13, 2010 at 12:44 am

The new muppeteer performing Kermit is Artie Esposito. In my opinion he is a lot better than Steve Whitmire who never sounded anything like Kermit. Artie actually sounds like Jim! I think that he’s gotten better since this performance. Has anyone seen him as Kermit with Lady Ga Ga at the VMAs? He did a really good job!

http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Artie_Esposito

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James W. October 1, 2009 at 5:56 am

The second video (aka “fake performance”) isn’t even working anymore. I wonder if it’s a copyright issue that America’s Got Talent had with the clip being online (unlikely, because you can find tons of them all over YouTube), or if Disney realized that it was a bad move to throw a sub-par performance out there (much more likely, considering the near-future plans they have for having the Muppets flourish again in the public eye). Let’s hope it was the latter, and that Kermit will go back to being Kermit again. Intriguing, intriguing…

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An Insider September 24, 2009 at 4:36 am

@ Showbizter: You’re obviously not knowledgeable enough to avoid the simple-minded claims you’re making.

In 1994, a sequel of “Gone with the Wind,” based upon Alexandra Ripley’s novel, Scarlett, was produced. The key roles were played by British actors Timothy Dalton as Rhett Butler and Joanne Whalley as Scarlett O’Hara. Did this diminish the quality of the original in any way, or would you call the 1939 epic less of a “classic” because of that? I’d be mildly surprised, and only even more doubtful of your credibility.

Stay on topic and realize that the “showbizz” decision of Disney’s — to replace a great key performer — bites big time. It shows disrespect to Jim Henson’s vision, to his work mentality, and ultimately his legacy.

Get my point?

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brad September 23, 2009 at 10:37 pm

there’s this one dude at school with a kermit bag who says ms piggy has a new voice. i didnt notice anything weird about the hog, but kermit sure was crappy! the new kermit sucks!

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Showbizter September 19, 2009 at 2:38 am

Recasting is part of showbizz…Get over it!!
Many many movies get remade, recasted and even sometimes renamed!!! As i said before it’s all part of showbizz.
Hollywood is just out of ideas now, nothing new can be made. Reason is because it’s all been done before!!!
Example….
Ever since the 1980’s they have spawned the Sequel or Prequel madness…Thus making the original movie dead. If they left a movie alone, it’d end up becoming a Classic!
Example…
1.Sound of Music
2.Gone with the Wind
Have there been sequels? Has it been remade?

Get my point?

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Lorrie Ann McCracken September 18, 2009 at 6:44 pm

So, my kids and I saw Kermit and Miss Piggy on Talent. My 9 year-old daughter insisted Kermit was a “fake”. She’s so upset about it, she now refuses to wear her Kermit pajamas anymore until the REAL Kermit comes back. Was hoping to do some research online to help calm her down. Guess she was right! :-0 Looks like it’s gonna be her Sponge Bob pajamas for a while. Lol

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Terri September 15, 2009 at 9:57 am

I think Steve does a fine job but it’s certainly not Jim’s Kermit. But then, who knows how Jim’s Kermit would be today? In Jim’s later years, he was certainly more PC than he was during the Muppet Show.

Maybe a new guy is a good idea. He’s got a nice low part to his voice that Jim had and Steve doesn’t. If he’s a good actor, that’s the really important part. I’ve heard the new guy does stage work with the Henson improv group (Puppet Up). That’s a good sign.

My fear though is that Disney will do what Warners has done with the Mel Blanc characters — have a half dozen people performing Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, etc. They all sound different and the characters just feel watered-down.

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hose nose September 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

it’s funny. This page was susposed to make people want to jump on the Steve is great bandwagon. But it seems most people don’t miss Steve, they miss Kermit. We gave Steve almost 20 years to find Kermit. If he couldn’t do it, maybe this new guy can. I think the new guy has the poential to bring the “heart” back to kermit.

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SMH September 11, 2009 at 7:02 am

If anything, the new guy sounds a LOT more like Henson than Whitmire ever did. I could never stand his interpretation of Kermit. I’d have to see a couple more appearances of the new guy before I could decisively judge, but as it stands, I think it’s an improvement, honestly.

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luv them muppets September 8, 2009 at 11:26 am

whitmore’s assuming the role of kermit was very traumatic for me; as traumatic as something so trivial can be. there is a difference in the voices, but there was a greater, more noticable, difference between whitmore and henson. hopefully the new guy will be allowed (by disney) to grow into the character and learn to incorporate the nuance that makes kermit, kermit; just as whitmore had to learn.

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Neal Alhadeff September 7, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Disney did the same thing to the immortal Paul Winchell with regards to the Tigger character. Few noticed.

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Laura Tanner August 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm

That’s not exactly true. I noticed….big time….because he was replaced with the genius voice actor Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Tazmanian Devil). Paul Winchell was reportedly involved in choosing his own replacement and even gave Jim some pointers on how to “take care” of the character.

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admin August 27, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Laura Tanner ยป not that its really pertinent to the overall discussion but I’ve actually heard the opposite about Winchell being replaced. As I recall, the story came from his longtime agent. I believe Winchell was replaced for one of the Pooh movies (perhaps rightfully) and then press releases accidentally went out citing that he was in it. Disney had to do a lot of scrambling. To be clear, I don’t think Cummings had anything to do with Winchell being replaced though. He’s an incredibly talented actor and a nice guy.

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admin September 7, 2009 at 4:02 am

@WolvenSpectre: No one can replace Jim Henson, that’s for sure. Here’s another lovely video, from his memorial service. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHe39ZTCs-4

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WolvenSpectre September 7, 2009 at 2:27 am

I’m sorry, but as good and noble a job as Mr Whitmore did, no one, and I mean NO ONE, has been able to touch Jim Henson’s performances I suggest you put this link in, It was done in 1975 and repeatedly played over my childhood and shows the differences between acting like Kermit and actually being him and bringing him to life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpiIWMWWVco

I am saddened and angered at Disney’s behavior and a little piece of my Youth and innocence died when I saw that last video… I don’t think I can watch another Muppet show after that.

I leave you with this other video on youtube that is a far better tribute to the genius and heart of Jim Henson…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Na-xvlYMGck

Try and rest in peace Jim… and thank you.

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