Once international superstars, Jim Henson’s Muppets have not had a major box-office hit in 32 years. That was “The Muppet Movie,” which took in $65 million for the Associated Film Distribution company in 1979, or about $197 million in today’s currency. The next five Muppets pictures, which were increasingly uneven, together had less in total domestic ticket sales than “Toy Story 3” collected in its first five days. (As Kermit might say, “Sheesh.”)
The oddball gang hasn’t had a regular TV gig in two decades. A 2005 effort to revive the characters sputtered as they were lobbed between divisions of the Walt Disney Company, and a new TV series died in the planning stages. In 2008, a resuscitation effort built largely around retail offerings suffered from the recession and from inexperience — Disney inexplicably reassigned the Muppets to an events team responsible for organizing movie premieres.
But Disney is giving another chance to Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Dr. Teeth, the Swedish Chef, Beaker and those balcony blowhards, Statler and Waldorf. This time, there is no talk of new tie-in theme park rides, TV specials, elaborate lines of related merchandise or the other trappings of a companywide franchise. This time, it all boils down to making a hit movie.
Scheduled for release at Thanksgiving, a marquee position on Hollywood’s calendar, “The Muppets” hopes to reboot the property by doubling down on signature attributes: irreverent, even biting humor; catchy song-and-dance numbers; and chaotic, unexpected storylines that can ricochet from dancing chickens to standup comedians to pigs in space.