On Thursday, Disney+ subscribers got a raft of exciting announcements regarding upcoming Star Wars, Marvel, and other series coming soon to the family-friendly streaming service. Even non-fans expect those upcoming entries to dominate popular culture coverage over the next year.
Some Disney legacy franchises have seemed to be left behind in the process — The Muppets foremost among them. Created by the late Jim Henson and a talented crew of performers, the Muppets were not mentioned once in over four hours.
Longtime fans were miffed mostly because one thing deserved brief mention. This week, Brian Henson, chairman of The Jim Henson Company and Jim’s son, announced that long-lost song “When Love Is Gone” has been restored to his acclaimed film The Muppet Christmas Carol. Disney, corporate owners of the Muppets since 2004, could have announced this restored version will be added to Disney+ along with one or more missing Muppet holiday specials.
Decades after Henson and friends hand-crafted their hilarious, colorful family of Muppet personalities, much of their best work remains locked away in the Disney vault. Many observers note challenges of music rights, which surely has some truth to it. But Henson biographer Brian Jay Jones has heard every excuse and agrees with those who say it doesn’t add up.
“Why is Disney+ not streaming The Muppet Show?” he asked this summer. “This is an issue the Muppet community online continually speculates about. Some assume the cost of clearances and music rights are the issue. But that shouldn’t be more than a rounding error for the Disney corporation today.” Vanity Fair also covered this issue.
The lack of Muppets content — productions featuring core characters owned by Disney, and many even produced by Disney — becomes obvious when listing all the Muppets series and specials currently missing on Disney+. It adds up to over 100 hours.
Muppets TV Series
The Muppet Show (1976-1981, 5 seasons)
In this top-rated syndicated variety show, Jim Henson achieved his dream of “making millions of people happy.” Each one of these 120 episodes is full of wild musical numbers, laugh-out-loud moments, and gags at every turn. Dubbed in 15 languages and aired in 102 countries, it was the world’s most popular televised comedy during its five-year run.
Muppet Babies (1984-1991)
This animated Saturday morning cartoon imagined childhood versions of the Muppet gang, in stories overseen by Henson and his team. Produced by Jim Henson Productions and Marvel Productions, it’s owned by Disney but also features clips from a variety of films that could make it difficult to see it release via streaming. Disney’s 2018 reboot of Muppet Babies was recently hit with a lawsuit from the original show’s producer.
Muppets Tonight (ABC, 1996-1998)
Running for 22 episodes, this series attempted to reboot The Muppet Show in a similar format (skits and musical numbers featuring guest stars), though it plays out in a television studio rather than an old-time theater.
Bear in the Big Blue House (ABC/Disney Channel, 1997-2006)
For over a decade and 118 episodes, families with preschool children laughed and learned along with Bear and his colorful friends. Developed by Mitchell Kriegman and Brian Henson and co-produced by The Jim Henson Company, this Emmy Award-winning series teaches kids valuable lessons in social skills, music, and cognitive development.
Muppets TV Specials
Hey, Cinderella! (1969, 52 minutes)
Featuring Kermit the Frog and several Muppet characters, this one-hour special directed by Jim Henson reimagines the story of Cinderella with original songs and constant laughs.
The Frog Prince (1971, 60 minutes)
Again, Henson directs a comedic spin on the classic fairy tale in an enduringly popular program featuring Kermit and introducing the character of his nephew, Robin.
The Muppet Musicians Of Bremen (1972, 50 minutes)
A trio of animals start a jazz band in this musical adaptation of the classic story set in Louisiana, the last in a trio of fairy tale specials directed by Jim Henson himself.
The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show (1982, 60 minutes)
One year after global ratings smash The Muppet Show, a revival special features Miss Piggy hosting her own talk show with Kermit calling the shots backstage. (A conceit later used in 2015’s The Muppets, an ABC series on Disney+.)
The Muppets at Walt Disney World (1990, 60 minutes)
At a time when the Muppets were nearly purchased by Disney (it took another 14 years to happen), Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang ride the rides and tour the massive Walt Disney World Resort in this hilarious nostalgia trip featuring several songs.
Muppet Classic Theater (1994, 68 minutes)
Retelling six classic fairy tales in short musical vignettes, this direct-to-video special co-produced by Disney and The Jim Henson Company delighted kids in the 90’s but has been out-of-print for decades.
The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005, 100 minutes)
Dorothy (Ashanti) is whisked away to the Yellow Brick Road in this musical comedic Muppets take on the classic story. Co-starring Queen Latifah and David Alan Grier, it aired on ABC.
Muppets Holiday Specials
The Muppets Valentine Show (1974, 26 minutes)
Kermit and the Muppets explore the meaning of love in this special featuring Mia Farrow, a test pilot of sorts for The Muppet Show.
John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979, 50 minutes)
The best-selling music album was also a popular music-based TV special. For this special, music clearances are apparently difficult and expensive enough that it never released on home video (which nearly every other title on this list has).
Rocky Mountain Holiday (1983, 47 minutes)
Folk artist John Denver takes the Muppets on a Colorado camping trip, in a special that features such sing-along classics as “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain.” Released on DVD in 2003, rumor has it the Estate of John Denver has held up further release of this and other Denver/Muppets programs.
The Tale of the Bunny Picnic (1986, 51 minutes)
This Easter-themed special tells the story of a young bunny who wants to help at the annual Bunny Picnic, but is told he is too small. Originally aired on HBO, this special was part of Disney’s 2004 Muppets purchase but has never released on home media.
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987, 52 minutes)
Often hailed as the greatest holiday special ever produced, A Muppet Family Christmas features the Muppets at their absolute height. The core Muppet characters are snowed in at the farmhouse of Fozzie’s mom, which then several Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock characters visit. Hilarious comedy and big surprises complement a selection of musical numbers — which are all holiday standards, licensed for TV and films thousands of times every year. So why the hold-up?
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (1995, 30 minutes)
Based on Robert Barry’s classic 1963 book, it depicts the story of Mr. Willowby (Robert Downey Jr.) and the mice living in his mansion searching out the perfect Christmas tree. Co-starring Stockard Channing (The West Wing) and Leslie Nielsen (Police Academy), this special was part of Disney’s 2004 Muppets purchase but has never released on home media.
A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)
When Gonzo (Dave Goelz) accidentally diverts three letters addressed to Santa, Kermit and his friends embark on a Christmas mission to deliver those letters to the North Pole in this ABC special.
Behind-the-Scenes Muppets TV Specials
The Muppets on Puppets (1970, 57 minutes)
Filmed in black-and-white for public television, this documentary features Jim Henson, Frank Oz and other Muppet performers — with the help of Rowlf the Dog — explaining how puppets work and the history of puppetry. It’s available online.
The Muppets Go Hollywood (1979, 60 minutes)
To celebrate the release of The Muppet Movie — and featuring some clips and tidbits about the film — Kermit throws a glamorous party at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub and mayhem ensues.
Of Muppets and Men: The Making Of The Muppet Show (1981, 52 minutes)
Following the series finale of the hit variety show, Jim Henson and team take audiences behind-the-scenes and introduce highlights from the past five seasons of laughs.
The Muppets Go to the Movies (1981, 49 minutes)
Produced to promote The Great Muppet Caper, this special features parody sketches of classic Hollywood films.
The Muppets: A Celebration Of 30 Years (1986, 60 minutes)
The Muppet gang gets together for a celebratory gala to mark 30 years, with the core Muppets appearing alongside some Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock characters. Clips dating back to 1955 are shown, in addition to new gags from Muppets hosting on stage.
The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson (1990, 48 minutes)
Following Henson’s untimely death at the age of 53 on May 16, 1990, only months later his troupe of performers regrouped for this moving special that pays tribute to his life’s work and legacy.
Muppets Titles Not Owned Or Distributed By Disney
These titles, some currently streaming on other platforms, are not counted as part of the “over 100 missing hours” of Muppets.
Sam and Friends (1955-1961) The Jim Henson Company/NBC
The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970) Sullivan Productions/The Jim Henson Company
Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (1977) The Jim Henson Company (currently on Amazon Prime)
The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) Sony/Tristar (currently on Tubi)
One of only three Muppet feature films produced during Jim Henson’s lifetime, this comedy flips the “hey let’s put on a show” Broadway tropes in all the right ways. If there was demand, Disney could work out a deal with Sony to stream this essential film.
The Christmas Toy (1986) The Jim Henson Company (currently on Amazon Prime)
Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (1987-1988) The Jim Henson Company
Secret Life of Toys (1994) The Jim Henson Company
Muppets From Space (1999) Sony/Tristar (currently on Tubi)
While not regarded as the Muppets’ strongest big-screen effort, Muppets from Space nonetheless showcases Dave Goelz as Gonzo in a fun and outrageous script. If there was demand, Disney could work out a deal with Sony to stream this film.
It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) NBC/MGM/The Jim Henson Company
Kermit’s Swamp Years (2002) Sony/The Jim Henson Company
The Muppets All-Star Comedy Gala (2012) Disney/Just for Laughs
Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular (2013) Disney/ABC
Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched (2017) Vibrant Mud Productions
Following his decades working with Jim Henson, Frank Oz went on to a successful Hollywood career as a writer and director. He returned to discuss the Muppets in this recent documentary, featuring several Muppet performers sharing inside stories. If there was demand, Disney could work out a deal to stream this documentary.
The global launch of Disney Plus has led to millions more people rediscovering the fun and wonder of the Muppets. Fans hope that the comedy troupe’s enduring work with Jim Henson will finally see the light of day again.
Which Muppets title do you hope releases on Disney+? Are any legacy Muppet titles missing? Leave a comment below to join the dialogue.