The lovers and dreamers go corporate : re-authoring Jim Henson’s Muppets under Disney

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Leader, Caroline Ferris

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The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of the Muppets in 2004 caused a significant rupture in the authorial history of a beloved franchise. Created in the 1970s the late media icon Jim Henson and his creative team, the classic Muppets enjoyed many years in the spotlight during the 1970s and 1980s -- on The Muppet Show (1976-1981), and in The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). The physically wacky and colorful puppets are known for their irreverent and chaotic antics, and they still have a sizeable cult following devoted to them. Fans attribute the character's "Muppetness" to Jim Henson's creativity as an author. However, Henson worked with a team of creative artists who all contributed to the Muppet franchise. As a result, is both impossible and inadvisable to try and breakdown Muppet authorship by contributor. Instead, I label Henson's authorship a brand in order to analysis the value of his perceived authorial power. These perceptions are what put the Muppets in such opposition with the corporate image of Disney. Disney, by contrast, has a reputation for commercial, family-oriented entertainment. The production studio has grown into a media conglomerate that saturates the market with merchandise, cross-promotions, and advertisement campaigns. Its dominant position in the media industry affects fan reception of any Disney-led project, so the re-launch of a long-dormant, independent brand like the Muppets creates an understandable tension among critics, popular press writers, and fans. By tracing media industry shifts the 1990s and 2000s and Disney's changing image and corporate structure, I analyze how it has "authored" the Muppets in the past few years. Both in its Muppet advertising campaign and in particular its treatment of the infamous character Miss Piggy, Disney has re-branded the Muppets for a new time and new generations, while attempting to hold onto the historical traits that make the Muppet brand appealing and profitable.



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