Wanted: New (and Awesome) Muppet Merchandise

As a Muppet fan, any time a new movie is set to be released, you look forward to a few things:

  • Muppet appearances on television (talk shows, guest appearances, etc.)!
  • Muppet trailers!
  • (and finally) new Muppet merchandise.

Ten days out from the theatrical release of Muppets Most Wanted, I’ve been impressively overwhelmed by the first two on the list. By this time in the promotional process, I even start to get a little sad because I know the Muppets popping up on the internet, my DVR, and everywhere else (commercials galore) will dwindle soon (though there’s always hope this could become a regular occurrence).

Unfortunately, the final item on the list — the big one, I think — has been hit or miss. Sure, I bought some of the new items in stock at the Disney Store (DisneyStore.com) but there are only so many plush Kermits an almost-30 year old can stuff into a small city apartment. (Right? RIGHT?)

Naturally, I turned my attention to Disney Parks merchandise. I’m not exactly sure why since the Stage 1 Store in Hollywood Studios has gradually become overrun with Phineas & Ferb and general theme park loot while the poor Muppet section is literally pushed to one corner. I’m sighing as I type that and I sigh just about every time I walk in there with the false hope things might be different. So really I didn’t have the highest of expectations for park merchandise. It was more of a “it couldn’t hurt” to think positively sort of thing.

Last Wednesday, the Disney Parks Blog published its article about the new Muppet stuff available in the parks. I was not hip hip hooray-ing over it. We had just seen those shirts in the store during our January trip, and I owned that same Kermit mug two years ago (until James broke it). I mean, I guess it’s new to guests who don’t frequent that store very much or are out looking for Muppet merchandise in the parks, but it’s such a heartbreaker when there can be so much more nicely made merchandise, true to the Muppets everything, for people to buy.

Sad Fozzie at FAO Schwarz
Really sad Fozzie puppet from FAO Schwarz.

In fact, I thought it was pretty telling to read the comments on the Disney Parks Blog that day. Everyone wants season 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show on DVD and someone even mentioned The Muppet Babies. At a recent event at Museum of the Moving Image, an audience member asked Jim Henson Legacy president Craig Shemin about this very thing, and he talked about how much it would cost for Disney to get rights to the music in the last two seasons of the show. He estimated it would cost them about a million dollars, and that’s why we haven’t seen any progress as far as distribution goes.

My question is this: why is Disney so afraid to invest in Muppet merchandise? With a new movie coming out, people want it and there’s definitely a way for them to capitalize on the new and also honor the nostalgia of the Jim Henson days. If they’re upset that the current stash at the Stage 1 Store hasn’t moved, it’s because it’s boring. (And as you know, there’s #noroomforboring.) And never changing.

It’s shame because there are so many possibilities, especially popping up in the last few years. Case in point: Threadless original t-shirts by awesome artists, Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, The Muppets Character Encyclopedia by Craig Shemin, Muppets Pop! Vinyls, and soon The Muppet Movie soundtrack on Vinyl.

Revitalizing a franchise like the Muppets is tough. You must interest the diehard fans who remember “the good old days” and also reel in new people who might be experiencing the Muppets for the first time. You have to convince people that things will only continue to get better, funnier, more heartfelt. But I think this needs to be reflected in every way Disney chooses to promote the Muppets from the commercials to the TV appearances to the little memento you take away from a store or a trip.

Rowlf and Walter Best Friends

If a guest sees the care and the thought put into the selection of products and the products themselves, it gives them a reason to care — to keep caring — and, most importantly, it’s harder for them to forget.

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