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November 28, 2016

A Muppet Fan Goes to Disney World, Fall 2016

Filed under: Feature,Reports — Tags: — Ryan Roe @ 8:00 am
muppetvision-ryan-staci-fountain

Two recently married Muppet fans in front of a Muppet fountain.

Here’s an interesting thing that happened to me recently: I got married.

Yes indeedy!  As I mentioned in this post over here, just a few weeks ago, I married occasional Tough Pigs contributor and fellow Muppet & Disney appreciator Staci Rosen.  We had been talking about taking a trip to Disney World for a long time, so it was a no-brainer destination for our honeymoon.

I hadn’t been to Walt Disney World Resort® in over a decade, so as a Muppet geek, I was excited to experience some Muppet-friendly things at the parks again for the first time in years, and to experience some  for the first time in ever.  Here’s a rundown of the Stuff at Disney World That Tickled My Muppet Fan Fancy.

The Muppets Present Great Moments in History

This is the one I was most jazzed about.  It’s a new Muppet thing, with puppets!

There are two different shows: One about the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and one about the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  I made sure to see both shows, and I even saw the Paul Revere show twice.  The show happens in Liberty Square, the area of the Magic Kingdom with the least exciting name.  About five minutes before each show, three large windows open on Heritage House, the building next door to the Hall of Presidents:

great-moments-doors-closed

First the windows are closed…

great-moments-doors-open

Then the windows open…

And then there are Muppets!

And then there are Muppets!

I staked out a spot early each time, but it was fun watching other folks gazing up and trying to figure out what was happening.  Those folks were pretty delighted when a famous talking frog popped up in an empty window.

Here’s a great thing: All the characters featured (Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, and Sam) are voiced by the real Muppet performers, so you never doubt that you’re watching the real Muppets.  And here’s another great thing: All the puppeteers are excellent at performing to the prerecorded tracks.  The lip-syncing is precise, and the puppet “acting” is impressive. (Can I call it “on point” without sounding silly?  Please e-mail to let me know.)  The puppets are larger than the usual Muppets, but they’re perfectly expressive.  Fozzie’s fur looked a little different, but maybe it was just the Florida humidity.

great-moments-samThe Declaration of Independence show includes a human actor playing the part of “J.J.,” who enlists the audience to call out various things throughout the show.  In that show, I was pleasantly surprised to see Sam Eagle pop up not in the same building as the other Muppets, but in the highest window of the Hall of Presidents.  How did he get up there?  Can Sam fly?

Both shows moved briskly, using the historical stories as nothing but a skeleton to hang jokes on.  The Muppets sing, they bring out chickens, they shoot red-white-and-blue confetti at the audience, and everyone has a good time.  I overheard several people making plans to come back later in the day so they could be sure to see both shows, so obviously the Disney-going public is digging it.  I’m inclined to say they should add a third show to the rotation, just because there’s so much more early American history to cover… but maybe leave it at three.  There are only so many hours in a Disney day, and Splash Mountain isn’t going to ride itself.

The scripts were funny, but as one might expect for a theme park show, the comedy was pretty broad.  I couldn’t help but ponder the fact that, following a cancelled TV series that attempted to present the most grounded and nuanced versions of the characters ever seen, the next high-profile project was a show in which Fozzie is doing bad jokes as soon as he pops up, and Piggy doesn’t hesitate to karate-chop Kermit.  Give the people what they want, I suppose.

Also: That theme song sure is catchy.  (“Great Moments in History!  But just the American parts!”)

Muppet Mobile Lab

Muppet Mobile Lab!  The high-tech, interactive, roving, animatronic vehicle thingy that grabbed fans’ attention back in 2007, only to disappear unceremoniously, only to reappear without warning just recently.  I managed to see it twice in Epcot.  Apparently, standard operating procedure is for it to roll out of the building that used to house Innoventions East and put on a show right near the Electric Umbrealla restaurant.

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First of all: I still don’t understand how the Mobile Lab works.  It drives around on just two big tires, so how does it stay upright?  And I know there’s such a thing as cameras and microphones, but I’m still impressed how seamlessly Bunsen can see people in the crowd, identify them by their appearance, and have conversations with them.

A lot of the Mobile Lab schtick is built around the interactive stuff.  The vehicle thingy has a display on the side that flips through various messages to land on the one relevant to that moment in the show.  The first time I saw the Lab, Bunsen asked a man from the crowd to audition to be his new assistant, and asked him to read the message on the side of the vehicle.  At which point the display flipped to read “I am so good looking.”  When Bunsen got a bit exasperated and asked him to try again, the message changed to read something like, “No, really.  I am really good looking.”  And then it started raining, so Bunsen and Beaker had to go inside.  Boo!  Amusingly, one of Bunsen’s human cast member assistants had to inform him that it was raining, which kind of destroyed the illusion that he was a living, sentient science genius.

muppet-mobile-lab-profile

In the second show I saw, Bunsen and Beaker demonstrated a new Muppet Labs mind-reading device.  Bunsen asked volunteers from the crowd to come forward and put their hands on their heads, and then the machine verbalized their thoughts: “I find Beaker strangely attractive!” and so on.  The show concluded with Bunsen announcing that they were going to lift off and fly away, which led to a gag in which Beaker’s nose inflated like a balloon!  I did not see that coming, but it felt just like a classic Muppet Labs sketch. (Speaking of which, there were references to the banana sharpener and edible paper clips, which I’m sure delighted no one in the crowd but me.)

muppet-mobile-lab-beaker-nose
So that was entertaining.  It’s worth noting that, as far as I could tell, the characters’ voices were not provided by Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire.  I can’t imagine them coming to work at Epcot every day, but I’d love to know more about how the return of the Lab came about.  Did the performers consult with the Disney Imagineers, or meet with whoever is performing the characters?

Also: The Muppet Mobile Lab squirts water on people.  There are a lot of things at Disney World that squirt water on people.

Journey into Imagination with Figment

Not exactly Muppety.  But this was my first time on the ride since Dave Goelz took over as the voice of Figment.  He kind of sounded like a pitched-up version of Rugby Tiger.

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MuppetVision 3D and Muppets Courtyard

Naturally, I saw MuppetVision twice on the trip.  The first time, it was at the end of the day, and Muppets Courtyard was pretty dead.   It was still fun to watch the film, but it was disheartening to see the auditorium looking like the Muppet Theater in the Steve Martin episode when Kermit cancelled the show.

Also this ad for The Muppets on ABC made me sad.

Also this ad for The Muppets on ABC made me sad.

The second time I saw it, it was the middle of the afternoon, and there was full crowd.  Now that was more like it!  Folks loved the pre-show, especially the cameo by “Mickey Mouse,” and they were enthusiastic about the film, especially Fozzie hitting himself in the face with a remote-control creme pie.

Still… It might be a good idea to make some kind of changes or updates to that thing.  I’ve seen it suggested by other Muppet fans that the Muppets could make a new 3D film and either make a switch or rotate between “MuppetVision Classic” and “MuppetVision New & Improved.”  When the film premiered in 1991, it was innovative, but in the 25 years since a lot of theme park 3D movies have taken its ideas to new places.  And 3D by itself isn’t exactly as novel as it used to be.

Oh, and what happened to the net full of Jell-O?  I looked all around the pre-show area but didn’t see it.  Is it gone, or did I just not look hard enough?  Or was it only at the California MuppetVision and I’m a big dummy?

I was eager to see what the gift shop had in store.  Unfortunately, there was almost nothing in-store.  I think the actual Muppet merchandise consisted of a Christmas ornament, two mugs, and two t-shirts, neither of which they had in my size.  There were plenty of Stitch keychains, though!  For some reason Stitch merchandise can be purchased at every single gift shop at Disney World.  I didn’t even bother to take any photos of the MuppetVision gift shop, it was so uninspiring.  Remember when they sold Bean Bunny dolls?  They should do that again.  Or here’s a thought: It seems to me there are some great Muppet action figures currently being sold by Diamond Select.  HOW ABOUT SELLING SOME MUPPET TOYS IN THE MUPPET STORE???

When I was at the park, PizzeRizzo was under construction but nearing completion.  It was smaller than I expected, but I can’t wait to go back and eat there on a future trip.

I did consider just camping out at the park until it opened.

I did consider just camping out at the park until it opened.

Oh, and here’s the most exciting news of this entire travel log: I got to use the Gonzo’s Royal Flush restroom!

It’s a neat way to retheme a restroom, but I was kind of hoping it would be themed on the inside.  Like faucets that look like Gonzo where the water comes out his nose, or at least some framed photos of Gonzo over the urinals.  But it was a pretty ordinary restroom.  Overall, I found myself disappointed by the dearth of restroom theming all over Disney World, with the single exception of the Tangled restrooms in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.  Come on, Imagineers.  Step up your potty game!

Actual photo of me actually entering the actual Gonzo's Royal Flush.

Actual photo of me actually entering the actual Gonzo’s Royal Flush.

Anyway…

In the time since I got back from Disney World, PizzeRizzo has opened (read all about it here!), so hopefully that will increase guest traffic to Muppets Courtyard, which is currently in a little bit of a dead-end corner of Hollywood Studios, what with all the construction walls as they tear down Streets of America and build The Star Wars Hullabaloo (I think that’s what they’re calling it).  And once Star Wars is finished, maybe they could tweak a few things in Muppets Courtyard.

Over at the Magic Kingdom, “Great Moments in History” seems to be a success, so I look forward to seeing it stick around a while.  And I haven’t seen official confirmation that the Muppet Mobile Lab at Epcot is here to stay, but I also haven’t heard otherwise, so as long as it doesn’t rain, that will be a great way to continue the Muppet presence in the parks.  Now they just have to figure out a way to get the Muppets into Animal Kingdom.

One More Thing

My hands fit perfectly into Jim Henson’s handprints in front of the Chinese Theater at Hollywood Studios.  That was pretty cool.

ryan-jim-henson-handprints

Click here to park-hop like a frog on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com



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