May 16, 2012

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Kermit the Frog

Ryan Dosier - Greetings Muppet Fans! Today is a majorly thrilling day for me and for The Muppet Mindset... today we post our 100th Weekly Muppet Wednesday spotlight! What began in 2009 as an attempt to spotlight lesser known Muppets, starting with Floyd Pepper, has become the most popular and largest article series on the site. And now, nearly three years later, we come to our 100th Weekly Muppet Wednesday on May 16th, the day that Jim Henson passed away 22 years ago. Because of this, I realized that there was only one Muppet I could spotlight this week, so please enjoy our 100th Weekly Muppet Wednesday!
KERMIT THE FROG

Performed by...
Jim Henson (1955-1990)
Steve Whitmire (1990-present)

First appearance...

Sam and Friends
(1955)

Most recent appearance...

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Best known role(s)...

Leader of the Muppets; world's most famous amphibian; international star of stage and screens both big and small; host of The Muppet Show; long-suffering love of Miss Piggy; singer; dancer; maker of people happy; Sesame Street News reporter; Bob Cratchit; Captain Abraham Smollett; Scarecrow; lover; dreamer; believer

Best friends...

Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Grover

Relationship status...
It's complicated

WHO IS KERMIT THE FROG?

Kermit the Frog is the very first, most popular, and most beloved Muppet character ever created. As the star of five television series, seven feature films, and countless other projects, Kermit the Frog is truly an institution representing the dreams and goals of Jim Henson. He is a stalwart performer with a career lasting over 55 years. In this time he has become famous the world over and the only amphibian to ever testify before the United States Congress and to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1955, Jim Henson created the puppet that would become Kermit the Frog, from his mother's old green coat and ping pong balls, for use on his first television program Sam and Friends. Kermit, not yet defined as a frog, would join a cast of characters on the show including Sam, Yorick, Harry the Hipster, and more. Here, Kermit participated in infamous sketches such as "That Old Black Magic" (in a wig), "Visual Thinking," "Inchworm" (in a wig), and "Huntley and Brinkley."

The earliest known reference to Kermit being a frog was in 1965 during an appearance on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson referred to him as Kermit the Frog. His froggy evolution continued through the 1960s and early 70s as Kermit gained an 13-point collar and two flippered feet by the time of Hey, Cinderella!, filmed in 1968, although some sources claim he gained his collar in 1962. Whatever the precise timeline, Kermit was clearly the full-fledged Kermit the Frog by the time The Frog Prince aired in 1971, the production Jim Henson often cited as Kermit's first frogified appearance.

In 1969 when Jim Henson teamed up with Joan Ganz Cooney and the Children's Television Workshop to create a new children's TV show, Kermit came along for the ride. With Rowlf the Dog, Kermit starred in the very first pitch reel for the new show: Sesame Street. In the pitch reel, it is Kermit the Frog who finally gives name to the show, dubbing it Sesame Street because it's like "Open Sesame, it kinda represents a place where neat stuff can happen."

After naming the show, it was fitting that Kermit become a major part of Sesame Street when it debuted on PBS in November 1969. Kermit appeared in the first episode and all across the first seasons of the show. On Sesame Street Kermit performed such songs as "On My Pond," "This Frog," "Caribbean Amphibian," and "I Love My Elbows." This was also the first time that Kermit sang his classic, defining song "Bein' Green." The song would become legendary for Kermit and he would perform it multiple times both on and off Sesame Street as well as with celebrities such as Lena Horne and Ray Charles. Kermit continues to use this song as his anthem to this day, nearly 45 years later.

As Sesame Street grew, so did Kermit's roles as he became the lead reporter for Sesame Street News Flash segments on the show. Kermit first appeared as a reporter in 1971, and afterwards it became his recurring role as he interviewed various fairytale characters such as Sleeping Beauty, Humpty Dumpty, the Three Little Pigs, and Rapunzel. Kermit appeared in News Flash segments through the 1980s and continues to don his trenchcoat and microphone on special occasions as recent as March 2012 (albeit not on Sesame Street).

While on Sesame Street, Kermit appeared in sketches with numerous other Muppet characters. In the early days he appeared often with monsters trying to present lectures on letters with disastrous results, such as X-raying Herry Monster and his infamous lecture on the letter W. Later on, Kermit was often paired with Grover, who would appear as a traveling salesman and attempt to sell Kermit countless objects that are useless to him (earmuffs, nose warmers, etc.), all of which resulted in Kermit gaining a new body part (ears, nose, etc.). Kermit also appeared multiple times with both Cookie Monster and Elmo in the 1980s.

After Jim Henson passed away, Kermit appeared less and less on Sesame Street. This phasing out of the character from the show can also be attributed to changing ownership of Kermit. When the Walt Disney Company acquired Kermit the Frog in 2004, Kermit could no longer appear on Sesame Street in new segments. However, Kermit was permitted to appear for a brief moment in "Elmo's World: Frogs" in the Season 40 premiere of Sesame Street, the first new material featuring Kermit since 2001.

After the immediate success of Sesame Street, Jim Henson decided to use his Muppets for projects intended for an older audience, and thankfully he decided to take Kermit with him. Kermit played a major role in numerous television specials including Hey, Cinderella! (1969), The Frog Prince (1971), The Muppet Musicians of Bremen (1972), and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977).

In 1975, however, everything changed for Kermit when he appeared in two pilots for something called The Muppet Show. At the time, Kermit was not intended to be the host of the upcoming show, losing out to Wally in The Muppet Valentine Special and Nigel in The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. In both pilots Kermit made only minor appearances, performing in two sketches in the former and appearing briefly in the latter. After both Wally and Nigel failed to impress as hosts, the production team decided to move forward with a new host... their old frog.

When The Muppet Show debuted in 1976, Kermit the Frog was the "unflappable" host, capable of controlling the rest of the crazy Muppet cast around him while performing rousing musical numbers and interacting with major guest stars. Immediately, Kermit was surrounded by a new nutso family of countless Muppets including Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Scooter, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Sam Eagle, The Swedish Chef, Lew Zealand, and, of course, Miss Piggy.

As host, Kermit flirted with the female guest stars, from Florence Henderson to Raquel Welch to Linda Ronstadt, performed with the biggest names in show business, including Bob Hope, Gene Kelly, Steve Martin, and dozens of others, and sang popular songs such as "Happy Feet," "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," "Ukulele Lady," and many, many more.

However, the most important thing about The Muppet Show was Kermit's relationship with the other Muppets. Fozzie Bear was Kermit's best friend and biggest annoyance. The constantly worrying, pestering, and failing bear pushed Kermit to the limit many times. Whether it was their classic comedy routine of "Hear/here," their duets such as "Any Old Iron," or just their backstage interaction, Kermit and Fozzie were the two stable leads on the show. Together they made a team of stressed out leader and lovable, useless sidekick--and friends who would carry the bulk of episodes of The Muppet Show.

Gonzo the Great provided another constant annoyance, demanding that his off-the-wall acts be performed onstage. Yet, Gonzo's "unique" sense of art was sometimes handy for Kermit... but those moments have been few and far between. Scooter was Kermit's right-hand man on the show, providing go-fer duties for both host and guest star. Without Scooter, it's safe to say that Kermit would have lost his head. The Electric Mayhem was the house band with Animal, a drummer who would eat Kermit as soon as look at him. With additional stresses such as Sam Eagle's calls for morality, Swedish Chef's attempts to cook the cast, Dr. Honeydew and Beaker's havoc-wreaking experiments, Statler and Waldorf's heckling, and Lew Zealand's boomerang fish, Kermit was truly the eye of a rampant, fuzzy hurricane.

From The Muppet Show, Kermit and the other Muppets made the jump to feature films with The Muppet Movie in 1979. In the film, Kermit embarks on his hero's journey from playing banjo in the swamp to making the big time in Hollywood. Along the way he unites with the other Muppets, gets the girl, wonders about Hare Krishna, sings songs like "Rainbow Connection" and "Movin' Right Along," and thwarts the wicked Doc Hopper. Some of Kermit's most inspiring and meaningful words are spoken in The Muppet Movie when he implores to Hopper, "Yeah, well, I've got a dream too! But mine's about singing, and dancing, and making people happy. That's the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with, and I've found a whole bunch of friends who share that same dream... and that sort of makes us like a family."

Kermit and his family continued to make movies for new audiences to enjoy, but Kermit was always the star. In The Great Muppet Caper (1981), he played a roving reporter alongside Fozzie and Gonzo as they traveled to London to prevent a jewel heist. Along the way, Kermit encounters all of the other Muppets, again wins the girl, and performs the snappy "Steppin' Out With a Star" number. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) saw Kermit trying to pitch his musical, "Manhattan Melodies," to Broadway producers. Unfortunately, Kermit contracts amnesia and dons the monicker Phillip Phil and joins an advertising firm to sell Ocean Breeze Soap (it "Gets You Clean"). Thankfully, by the end of the film, Kermit is snapped back to himself and he sings "Right Where I Belong" and marries the girl. (Sort of. It's complicated.)

After becoming a major movie star, Kermit returned to television in the  1980s with specials such as Rocky Mountain Holiday (1983), A Muppet Family Christmas (1987), The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (1986), and The Muppets at Walt Disney World (1990). Kermit would also make countless appearances on television talk shows during this chapter of his storied career.

In 1989 Kermit teamed up with Jim Henson for yet another series called The Jim Henson Hour. On the show, Kermit hosted the Muppet Central segments with a slew of Muppets both new and old including Digit, Leon, Gonzo, and Bean Bunny. Kermit's role here was similar to The Muppet Show as he reined in even more crazy Muppets, but his performing side was played down considerably. Perhaps it was the loss of most of his classic Muppet family, but even with Kermit the show only lasted two seasons. Thankfully this was not even close to the last time Kermit would be seen on television.

On May 16, 1990, Kermit the Frog lost his closest friend with the passing of Jim Henson. This meant the loss of not only Kermit's voice, but his heart and soul as well. What Jim Henson gave to Kermit the Frog can, obviously, never be understated. Kermit's final performance with Jim Henson, and Jim's final public performance period, was on May 4, 1990 on The Arsenio Hall Show, when they both shared the couch and shared in the spotlight.

When Kermit the Frog had to return, it was with all the expectations and eyes of the world upon him. Thankfully, he did not disappoint. In The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson  (November, 1990), Kermit was held off screen until the final moments of the special, where he spoke for the first time with his new voice courtesy of Steve Whitmire. Without Steve, Kermit might not still be around today. But luckily, Steve proved to be not just the right choice, but the perfect choice to bring Kermit the Frog back to life.

Kermit finally returned to the big screen in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) where he played Bob Cratchit, the first time he played a feature film role that was not Kermit the Frog. In the film, Kermit/Cratchit played the long-suffering employee of Ebeneezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) and the loving husband/father of Emily Cratchit (Miss Piggy) and Tiny Tim (Robin the Frog). Four years later, Kermit was back on the big screen again for Muppet Treasure Island (1996), playing another literary character: Captain Abraham Smollett. Captain Smollett swashbuckles with Long John Silver (Tim Curry) and commands a ship full of pirates, dumb bears, and hapless deck hands.

1996 ended up being a letterhead year for Kermit with a feature film and a brand new television series, Muppets Tonight, which began in 1996 on ABC. Although he was not the host of this new show (that duty fell to Clifford), Kermit still appeared in every episode of the show in a sort of producer role interacting with even more major celebrities and trying to handle a new posse of precocious puppets. This also didn't stop Kermit from doing what he does best: performing. He performed the song "Firefly" with Tony Bennett, sang "Once in a Lifetime," and "Dancin' in the Dark," and appeared in many of the show's parody sketches.

Three years later, in 1999, Kermit returned to feature films once again in his first supporting role with Muppets From Space. For the first time, Kermit played second banana to Gonzo the Great, who headlined the movie as he searched for his true lineage. However, Kermit still played a major role as he painted the Muppet Boarding House, ate breakfast, and rallied the Muppets to go save Gonzo and Rizzo from a whole fleet of government agents. Even though he left Bunsen and Beaker back at the gas station, Kermit was still there for Gonzo when he needed him most on a cold night at the beach. It was there that Gonzo professed what we all know to be true, "Kermit, you're the best friend a guy could have."

In 2001, for the first time, Kermit starred in a direct-to-video film, Kermit's Swamp Years. The film starred Kermit as a twelve year old frog and focuses on his first adventure out of the swamp with his friends Croaker and Goggles. Along the way they encounter bullying bull frogs, mad middle school scientists, and scalpels. The following year, Kermit returned to television yet again with the made-for-television film It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002). In one of Kermit's biggest, most dramatic roles yet, he wishes that he was never born after losing the Muppet Theater to an evil banker lady (Joan Cusack). The Big Boss (Whoopi Goldberg) arranges it so Kermit gets to experience the world where he was never born, where realizes how much he means to the world.

In 2004, Kermit the Frog and the Muppets were purchased from The Jim Henson Company by The Walt Disney Company. Kermit had finally joined Mickey's family, something that Jim Henson had been pushing for just before he died. Disney's first major project with the Muppets was 2005's The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, another made-for-television film which featured Kermit as the Scarecrow--out of character, since the Scarecrow has no brains and the frog has plenty. Disney's efforts with Kermit ranged from a short-lived 50th Anniversary celebration to television commercials. Finally, in 2008, Disney had a hit with A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, a television special which featured Kermit and the Muppets as they journey to the North Pole to deliver letters to Santa (hence the catchy title).

Kermit's first major appearance on the internet came in 2008 when Disney revamped Muppets.com with new video content starring Kermit and the other Muppets. Kermit rode the elevator with Gonzo (not a great idea), danced like crazy, and was as entertaining as he had ever been since being bought by Disney. In 2009, Kermit had (arguably) the biggest laugh at the end of the Muppets' ultra-popular "Bohemian Rhapsody" viral video on YouTube. Sitting at his computer with Scooter, Kermit asks the go-fer to remind him to never do a video conference with a bunch of Muppets again. The video did win the Muppets a Webby Award, however, so maybe Kermit was wrong.

In 2011, Disney finally took a leap of faith with Kermit and put him in a brand new feature film, The Muppets. In the film (as if you don't know), Kermit has gone somber after he and the Muppets went their separate ways. When he is discovered by Walter, Gary (Jason Segel), and Mary (Amy Adams), they rally him to reunite the Muppets and put on a show to raise $10 million to save the Muppet Theater from Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). The film was such a critical and financial success for the Muppets that Disney has already begun work on a sequel, which will also star Kermit.

Since The Muppets, Kermit has appeared on numerous television shows promoting the film and its subsequent release on Blu-ray/DVD. Kermit continues to make appearances almost once a month and of course is the subject of countless books, writings, and his likeness adorns an unfathomable amount of merchandise. Yes, Kermit may be a simple frog with a dream and a song in his heart, but he is also a true institution who has clearly changed the world and affected the lives of millions of children, young and old, who believe in him.

KERMIT THE FROG AND MISS PIGGY
Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are not only the two most popular and prominent Muppet characters, but they are also two of the most complicated. Since Miss Piggy appeared in the first episode of The Muppet Show, she has had the hots for Kermit, and Kermit has been reluctant to return said hots. In the Muppet Glee Club sketch in the first episode, Piggy broke from the crowd and swarmed Kermit with her love. He tried to recede, but was no match for the porky mass. From that moment on, the two were engaged in a complicated and adorable relationship. Throughout the run of The Muppet Show, Piggy would pursue Kermit, Kermit would resist, and the audience would laugh. Miss Piggy's love for the frog was one of the highlights of any episode it was present in, but what was more enjoyable was seeing Kermit get flustered by it, or even jealous of Piggy's attraction to another man.

The most interesting and hotly debated moment in Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship came in The Muppets Take Manhattan, when, at the end of the film, they had a wedding. Why is this complicated? For numerous reasons. First, it was a wedding in a play in a movie between two characters that Kermit and Piggy were playing (who happened to be named Kermit and Miss Piggy). Second, the guests at the wedding were every Muppet ever--presumably who Kermit and Piggy would invite to their wedding. Third, the man playing the minister in the film is an actual, ordained minister and he pronounced them frog and pig. Confused yet? Join the club.

After the film, their status was very ambiguous. Miss Piggy called Kermit "Hubby" in The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years, but for many years after Kermit would always deny that they were married... while Piggy would assert that they most definitely are. It all became even more confusing and ambiguous with The Muppets in 2011. In the film, Kermit and Piggy both have half of a picture of from their Manhattan wedding, implying that it actually happened. Yet, the wedding or specifics of the break up are never mentioned in the film. All we're left with is Piggy telling Kermit that she built him a mansion for them to grow old and raise tadpoles in. Perhaps it's fitting that after 35 years Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship is just as confusing and undefined as ever.

KERMIT THE FROG AND JIM HENSON
Never before were there a Muppet and Muppeteer more inseparable than Kermit the Frog and Jim Henson. Often cited as Jim's alter-ego, or a more unrestrained Jim, Kermit represented the best of Jim in the best ways. Kermit and Jim shared a bond between character and creator that can be compared to Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney, but so much different because Jim had to physically become Kermit every time he performed him. Jim, literally, knew Kermit the Frog from the inside out and it showed in every performance. More than any other character he performed, Kermit was Jim Henson. Both Jim and Kermit were in the middle of a storm of crazies--Jim's was just much less fuzzy (unless you count the many beards). No character will ever be more associated with Jim Henson than Kermit the Frog, and perhaps that is why he is the most popular Muppet ever created.

KERMIT THE FROG AND STEVE WHITMIRE
After Jim Henson passed away in 1990, the unimaginable burden of becoming Kermit the Frog was passed on to veteran Muppeteer Steve Whitmire. When he first received the Kermit puppet, Steve did not touch it for months because it did not feel right to him. When he finally did perform Kermit, he found that it flowed naturally as long as he exuded Jim Henson, the man he knew and loved. Since then, Steve Whitmire has proven time and again that he is the only person who could have saved Kermit the Frog. For the past 22 years, Steve has performed Kermit brilliantly, giving him even more depth than he had with Jim. Yet, Jim is always there, always present in every performance of Steve's. From the small facial movements to the way Kermit delivers a line, if you're looking for it, you'll know Jim is there.

WHY DO THE MUPPETS/SESAME STREET/THE WORLD NEED KERMIT THE FROG?
Have you read this article? That should be enough to show why Kermit the Frog is needed. He represents the best of all of us--he represents Jim Henson. Kermit is the lover and the dreamer that we should all set out to be. Kermit loves unconditionally (yes, even Miss Piggy--usually), he dreams without giving up (and even if he does, he always has his friends and his fans to pull him back up again). Kermit the Frog is the friend we've always had but most of us have never met. That is the magic of Kermit... we don't have to meet him to know that he believes in us--and that's why we believe in him.

Kermit the Frog has found the Rainbow Connection, proved it is easy bein' green, and done just what he set out to do. Without Kermit, there are no Muppets, there is no Sesame Street. Without Kermit there is a lot less laughter, a lot less learning, a lot less fun. Clearly, without Kermit the Frog, the world would be a much less cheerful and magical and wonderful place. That is why the world needs Kermit the Frog: cheer, magic, and wonder. What more could we ask for? Thanks, Kermit.






The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

6 comments:

  1. This is possibly the longest Muppet Mindset article ever!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely LOVED it! Couldn't have said it better myself.

    ReplyDelete
  3. let kermit be back on a regluar segement of sesame street

    ReplyDelete