“I don’t think you’re a bad man, Doc. But I think if you look in your heart, you’ll find you really want to let me and my friends go, to follow our dream. But if that’s not the kind of man you are, and what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense to you, well then…go ahead and kill me.”–Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Movie (1979)
There was a documentary on Jim Henson that was made in 1999, and in the middle of writing my previous post, I suddenly remembered that I had a segment of it tucked away in a playlist on YouTube wherein Steve talks a little about what happened when he first took up the mantle of performing Kermit. So I looked it up just now because I thought it might be helpful to me. And because I hadn’t seen it in several years, I kept watching it after the bit with Steve was over, and heard Frank Oz say that Steve “had to get in the soul of Jim to be Kermit.”
At that moment, I had an epiphany. All this time, I’ve been angry and sad and upset about how Disney has been treating Steve. Suddenly, the true horror of this situation finally hit me; it’s not just that Disney has mistreated Steve, it’s that they’ve mistreated Kermit.
The puppeteer is the soul of the character; I knew that before, but I hadn’t fully realized all the implications of it. You can’t just take away someone’s soul. You can’t fire someone’s soul; you can’t replace someone’s soul; you can’t audition for a new soul. What Disney has done to Kermit–to Kermit–is an act of violation, comparable to the Dementor’s Kiss; or, to use an example from within the Jim Henson universe, analogous with the splitting of the urSkeks in The Dark Crystal.
When viewed in that light, how could anyone greet the recasting news with indifference or unconcern, with cautious optimism–or even, as some are doing, with enthusiastic anticipation? How could anyone be resigned to this unspeakable act of violence against our beloved frog? Steve has gotten a lot of flak for speaking out about it on his blog. I’ve felt that that was unfair all along, but having had this epiphany, I don’t see how any reasonable person could expect him to stay silent; how can anyone who claims to love the Muppets stand silently by and watch as our lifelong friend, Kermit the Frog, is being eviscerated?
Of course, Disney owns the rights to the characters, so they are at liberty to cast whomever they want in whatever role. And I imagine that their rationale was that, since Muppet characters have been recast before, it wouldn’t make much difference. There’s no denying that characters have been successfully recast before; it is inevitable in a “franchise” (how I hate that word!) that’s over 60 years old, and if the characters are to survive in perpetuity, all of them will eventually have to be recast.
Nevertheless, there’s a difference: in the past, the recasts happened in an organic way. It happened out of necessity, and the main performers were allowed to have a say in who would be their replacement.
This is completely different. It’s arbitrary, cynical, and self-serving. But most of all, it’s unnecessarily cruel.