Jim Henson’s Family Is Soldiering on Without the Muppets

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Sep. 24 2021, Published 12:37 p.m. ET

Kermit the Frog & Co. will face a spooky new adventure in the upcoming television special Muppets Haunted Mansion, but you won’t find mention of it on The Jim Henson Company’s website. (Jim Henson, the puppeteer who created the Muppets, died in 1990, but he would have been 85 years old on Sept. 24.)

Now, The Walt Disney Company owns Henson’s Muppets. The Muppets’ first-ever Halloween special will debut on Disney+ on Oct. 8.

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“In Muppets Haunted Mansion the Great Gonzo—world-famous daredevil artiste—has done it all, seen it all, and survived it all,” Disney touts in a press release. “But on Halloween night, the fearless Gonzo takes on the greatest challenge of his life by spending one very daring night in the most grim grinning place on Earth… The Haunted Mansion.”

In honor of Henson’s birthday and the upcoming TV special, here’s more information on the Muppets’ big move to Disney.

The Walt Disney Company bought the Muppets in 2004.

In February 2014, The Walt Disney Company announced its acquisition of the Muppets from The Jim Henson Company. The deal happened nearly 14 years after Henson’s death.

Disney’s press release about the purchase included a rapturous quote from Lisa Henson, one of Jim’s children, who said that he had “extensive discussions” with Disney before his death and had a “strong belief” that Disney would be the perfect home for the Muppets.

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“As such, the deal we announced today is the realization of my father’s dream, and ensures that the Muppet characters will live, flourish, and continue to delight audiences everywhere, forever,” Lisa added. “My brothers and sisters—Brian, Cheryl, John, Heather—and I are so proud to have the Muppets living under the same roof as Walt Disney’s own timeless characters. We could not possibly be more pleased.”

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Disney reportedly paid half what it originally offered for the Muppets.

Behind the scenes, the family could have been more pleased, according to a 2020 The Hollywood Reporter article. The magazine reported that Henson had “bitter negotiations” with Disney before his death. Disney ultimately paid the Henson family $75 million for the franchise, which is half of what it originally proposed. (“They wanted to pay less money because Jim wasn’t part of it anymore,” a contemporary of Henson's explained to THR. “It just really soured the [Henson] family, I know that.”)

In the years since that purchase, Disney has expanded the Muppets franchise with two feature films—2011’s The Muppets and 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted—a succession of TV shows—including ABC’s The Muppets, Disney Junior’s Muppet Babies reboot, and the Disney+ series Muppets Now.

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These days, The Jim Henson Company is focusing on other properties.

Even without some of its most famous puppets, The Jim Henson Company is still in business. Its recent productions include the Netflix fantasy series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and the Disney+ talk show Earth to Ned.

Now, the company is working on a Harriet the Spy series and a Fraggle Rock reboot, both for Apple TV+, and a Pinocchio film for Netflix from Guillermo del Toro.

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