Disney is often joked about “owning everything,” and that includes the Muppets. However, there’s a key part of Muppets media that sadly will never get a release on streaming or even DVD for reasons beyond Disney’s control.
In 1989, Disney made one of the first big acquisitions of the Michael Eisner era by buying the Muppets. Jim Henson had signed off on the deal with the plan being for Henson to use the freedom to develop his own projects while aiding Disney in putting the Muppets in theme parks and other films.
The first project was Muppet-Vision 3D and other ideas included a “Muppet Movie Ride” and a “Muppet High” TV show. But everything changed when Henson suddenly died in May of 1990 at the shockingly young age of 53. Muppet Vision remains as Disney seems reluctant to change the last project Henson had a hand in.
Since then, the Muppets have seen their ups and down in movies and shows (like the recently canceled Electric Mayhem series). Yet one piece of Muppet media remains unavailable for an official release.
The fun of Muppet Babies
For kids in the 1980s, Saturday morning cartoons were a key part of their lives. Premiering on CBS in 1984, Muppet Babies had the muppet gang (Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, Gonzo, Fozzie, Rowlf, Scooter and Skeeter and Honeydew and Beaker) as little kids hanging around a nursery overseen by Nanny, who was only ever seen from the shoulders down.
The show captured how it was to be a toddler as the gang would embark on imaginary adventures involving cowboys, fairy tale characters, pirates, even a take on Star Wars. They would often be earmarked by integrating movies and TV shows into the dream sequences. That included anything from old silent films to blockbusters like Indiana Jones.
The show ran for eight seasons and 107 episodes and is still loved by its now-grown fans. Which is why some may be amazed it’s the one major part of Muppets that isn’t available not just on streaming but no DVD release either, for good reason.
Why is Muppet Babies not available to the masses?
In a bitter irony, the thing that made the show so wonderful is also what prevents it from ever being released on physical media or streaming: All those movie clips.
Back in the 1980s, copyright law wasn’t as stringent as it is today. The public domain was much wider and scores of TV shows could use popular music without any problem. Likewise, it was simple then for a CBS cartoon to use so many clips from other projects and not worry about lawsuits.
Today, it’s a much different world. The reason so many TV shows from the 1980s, like The Wonder Years, Moonlighting, and others, took so long to reach DVD is because they had to negotiate rights to all the songs used in them.
Muppet Babies is even tougher, as former Henson cartoonist Guy Gilchrist discussed at the recent L.A. ComicCon. When asked about the chances of Muppet Babies being released, Gilchrist talked about how in the 1980s, there was a “camaraderie” among studios, as evidenced by Henson and his crew helping George Lucas and Steven Spielberg with their projects. Sadly, such cooperation is gone in today's Hollywood.
“Back in those days, everyone loved us. They loved Jim — would do anything for us. We didn’t fill out forms, requests, this or that. We basically did whatever we wanted to do with the blessing of all of the studios. These days, things are owned by Disney, Universal… and there’s not the camaraderie at the creative level that we had in the eighties.
That’s why, I’m sorry to say, you will not see the original Muppet Babies. And it’s the question I get asked the most. I had a lot to do with the Babies. I know how much you guys love the Babies and would love to have them back. But I don’t really know a way that that will ever happen. It’s copyrights and trademarks and that sort of thing, unfortunately.”
Gilchrist did share the fun bit that the animators always pictured Nanny looking like Barbara Billingsley from Leave It To Beaver. While there are episodes of Muppet Babies available at places like YouTube, the red tape involving so many properties being used in the series prevents it from an official release.
So, sadly, because Muppet Babies was so inventive in how it used all these movie/TV clips, the beloved series remains out of the reach of the masses who’d love to have their kids enjoy this magic.