I wonder what would have happened if no one had asked Disney about Steve Whitmire’s status with the Muppets.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not making a value judgment either way. But I just wonder what would be different now. Would Steve have started his blog? Would the Vogel!Kermit (henceforward to be known as “simula-Kerm”) video have dropped in July without fanfare?
That’s one thing that’s been gnawing at me all these almost two months, and nobody else seems to think that it is as significant as I do: when the news first broke back in July, Disney promised a “Muppet Thought of the Week” video with Matt Vogel as Kermit the following week. The fact that they claimed to have it cued up and ready to go, and yet didn’t make an announcement regarding the recast until specifically asked about it, implies to me that they intended to just release the simula-Kerm video on the world without comment, to try to sneak it past us and hope that we wouldn’t notice.
It’s frankly insulting. We’re Muppet fans, dammit! We notice tiny details; what makes you think we aren’t going to notice a seismic shift in the Muppet universe? We get pissed off when Fozzie wears the wrong color tie; what makes you think we’re going to let the end of the Second Muppet Era pass by without comment? What have we been doing for the past 27 years but analyzing Kermit’s voice? Of COURSE we were going to notice! We were always going to notice!
Then the whole thing became a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Steve took a Harry Potter-like stand by starting his blog to tell the world the truth of what had gone on at Disney. In response, Disney took a…well, to be fair, a relatively mild Dolores Umbridge-like stance and started trying to discredit Steve in the press. And a sizable chunk of the Muppet fandom started taking an Dumbledore-specific-to-OotP-like stance and started ignoring Steve just when Steve needed them the most. This was a rare miscalculation on Dumbledore’s part, but at least he had good intentions behind it. Perhaps the fans that have turned away from Steve have good intentions as well; history will be the judge. But I digress.
Amidst the fallout from all that, the simula-Kerm video drop was delayed by over a month.
This, I think, was a diabolically clever move by Disney. It gave people the opportunity to get used to the idea of Matt performing Kermit, to convince themselves that even a simulacrum of Kermit is better than no Kermit at all. (On which issue, by the way, I am still undecided.)
If, on the other hand, Disney had released its simula-Kerm video in July with no fanfare, the way it seems to have wanted to in the first place, not only would there have been confusion and uproar, but it would have demonstrated dramatically how little respect Disney has for us Muppet fans: the insult of thinking they could recast Kermit without our noticing or caring, added to the injury of ripping away the soul of our beloved froggy friend.
Then again, maybe it would all have come to the same pass anyway. Forced to do damage control, maybe Disney would have still released their same statement about Steve’s “unacceptable business conduct” and the Hensons’ support of their decision, and maybe the Hensons would have chimed right in on cue with the Steve-bashing, and maybe that same contingent of Muppet fans would have been convinced that they are right.
I don’t fault the guys at ToughPigs or The Muppet Mindset for investigating and publishing their findings; if anything, I wish they had been willing to do more investigating, to use the unique resources available to them to uncover the truth of the matter. In any case, what had seemed initially to have been an embarrassing inconvenience for Disney actually ended up playing right into their hands. Disney, with its Machiavellian efficiency, managed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.
On the other hand, it also led to Steve starting his Muppet Pundit blog, which has become a joy and a blessing in my life, so I’m grateful for that. Nothing is so evil that good cannot come out of it, one way or another.