Sixty for 60: Kermit the Frog

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his upcoming 60th birthday. This month we celebrate Steve’s work as the most famous and beloved amphibian in the entire world: Kermit the Frog.

“The fact that Steve was there, and that he had the ability to do this [i.e., perform Kermit], was really quite an incredible stroke of luck.” –Dave Goelz

My feelings about Kermit have been raw lately, and it’s hard to know what to say about him. Instead of thinking of something original, let me fall back on my words from 2013:

“[Kermit] is everything I want to be: funny without being mean, smart without being overbearing, and although he sometimes loses his temper, he never says an unkind word. He’s been involved in show business for almost 60 years now, with his integrity still intact. He’s been everywhere and seen everything, and yet he’s never become cynical, never lost his faith in humanity, and always finds something positive to say about everyone. He’s a prince among frogs AND men.”
           — The Muppet Mindset’s “Great Muppet Survey,” published June 3, 2013

In putting together this 60 for 60 project, I haven’t talked very much about the Schism, and that’s by design. After all, this is supposed to be a celebration of Steve, and reminding a man of one of the worst times of his life seems like an odd way to celebrate him. On the other hand, I don’t want to downplay its significance or validate Disney’s position by not acknowledging it when it is relevant to do so. I think that sends the wrong message.

It’s almost impossible to talk about Steve and Kermit without also mentioning the Schism, but I’m going to try to do so only as necessary. 

“The Rainbow Connection” (Jim Henson’s Disney Legends Awards Ceremony)

“Rainbow Connection” is and always will be one of my favorite Muppet songs, and this is one of my favorite performances because (a) it’s Kermit and Rowlf singing together, and (b) I love it when the Muppets sing live. I even love Rowlf’s little screw-up because it makes it clear that the performance is not pre-recorded.

“Pictures in My Head” (The Muppets 2011)

There are currently two versions of this song on YouTube. One features a cleaner audio edit but a reversed visual that makes Kermit’s head look wonky. The other features standard visuals but has an awkward edit that includes snippets of dialogue from the movie. I’m including them both here so that you have options on how you want to watch it:

Clean audio, reversed visual:

Standard visual; dialogue artifacts:

This is such a beautiful song, and Steve does such a fantastic job with it. Now, of course, it’s inescapably poignant and ironic when Kermit asks the musical question, “Is there more I could have said?” because, if you believe Disney (which is a perilous endeavor), their issue with Steve was that he had said too much. The lyrics also have a good comeback for people who say that Kermit had become too sad under Steve’s guardianship: “Sometimes even frogs have rainy days.”

Backstage interview (The Ellen Show, 2012)

Here’s a clip to show people when they say Kermit has gotten too sad, angry, bitter, etc. Admittedly, Kermit does end up struggling with depression by the end…and the result is hilarious. This is not only one of Steve’s funniest performances as Kermit, this is one of Kermit’s funniest performances. Period.

“Note to Self” (CBS This Morning, 2014)

This may not be a big, iconic Kermit moment, but it is an interesting and well-crafted retrospective. I’m including this clip mostly because it remembers and reveres Jim Henson. It’s important to keep sight of the fact that Kermit was, is, and always will be Jim’s character. I feel confident in my belief that Steve would say the same.

“Kermit the Frog Has a Nervous Breakdown, Storms Out of Interview” (Miami New Times)

When I first found this interview on YouTube, the clickbait-y title made me very nervous, but it’s actually only half accurate: Kermit does have a nervous breakdown, but he doesn’t “storm out” of anything. It’s an example of how funny Kermit’s angst can be when it’s used effectively. Also, Steve makes a “cameo” of sorts at the end. (You don’t see him, but you hear him.) 

Well…that just about brings us down to the end of another one. Come back next month for a celebration of Steve’s work as Beaker, focusing particularly on the viral videos in which he starred. 

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