Visitors to Disney’s Hollywood Studios have been entertained by Kermit, Fozzie, Ms. Piggy, and friends at Muppet*Vision 3D since May of 1991, just two years after the park’s opening. This beloved attraction is filled with the typical Muppet brand of chaos, punny jokes, and cheap 3D tricks. While this attraction alone is enough to delight Muppet fans of all ages, you may be surprised to learn this section of the park was originally intended to house an entire Muppet themed land!
Like many Disney fans, Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner was a huge fan of Jim Henson’s Muppet characters. So much so that he was determined to secure the rights to include these characters in Walt Disney World’s newest theme park. In the late 1980’s Disney was in talks with Jim Henson regarding such a deal. The $180 million deal was to include rights to all of Jim Henson’s past work, including The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. Disney would also acquire exclusive rights to Henson’s new works for the next 10 years.
One of the most exciting results of the Disney-Henson deal was the arrival of The Muppets at Disney-MGM Studios, as it was called at the time. In May of 1990, a new stage show called Here Come The Muppets opened in the area which would later become the Animation Courtyard. This show lasted only 16 months before its closing; However, it was not to be the last Muppet show in the park. Two weeks later, a new show opened called Muppets On Location: Days of Swine And Roses. This show took place outside near Muppet*Vision 3D until 1994.
In addition to these shows and Muppet*Vision 3D, plans were being made to build an entire Muppet themed section of Disney-MGM Studios. Perhaps you’ve noticed the design of the Pizza Planet building is a bit similar to the style of the Muppet*Vision 3D building. This is no coincidence; Plans were made for this building to house the Swedish Chef’s cooking school restaurant. Inside the restaurant, guests would be able to watch the chef’s hilariously chaotic cooking demonstrations.
In addition to the Swedish Chef’s cooking school, there were several other intriguing ideas for the Muppet themed land at Disney-MGM Studios. There were plans for Lew Zealand’s Flying Fish Store where guests could see his famous boomerang fish. There were also plans to add Sesame Street characters to the Streets of America; However, since Jim Henson only owned 50% of the rights to these characters, it was not possible to include them in the Disney-Henson agreement.
Gonzo and Rizzo were also to have their very own restaurant called The Great Gonzo’s Pizza Pandemonium Parlor which would have been located in what is now Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano. You may have noticed the tracks running throughout the restaurant. These were originally installed with plans for animatronic Muppet rats to use them to deliver food to the guests’ tables.
Like any proper land in a Disney theme park, the Muppet land was to feature a ride-based attraction. The Great Muppet Movie Ride was to be a parody of the park’s Great Movie Ride. In this ride-through attraction, the Muppets would show how movie magic was made. They would have recreated scenes from classic films such as Peter Pan and Frankenstien. Guests were to travel through the attraction with Waldorf and Statler who, of course, don’t seem to appreciate the Muppets’ take on movie magic.
Plans for the Muppet themed land came to a halt in 1990 after the unexpected death of Jim Henson. The Muppet*Vision 3D show itself had already been completed but was missing a pre-show. Frank Oz worked to create the pre-show which was used for the attraction. The restaurant buildings were already underway and the pad had already been poured for The Great Muppet Movie Ride. The agreement for the rights to Jim Henson’s work had not yet been completed. Disney unsuccessfully sought a deal with Henson’s children. However, Frank Oz showed them the completed Muppet*Vision 3D film and asked that they let the world see one of their father’s last works. They decided to allow the attraction but only at Walt Disney World. The rights for the Disney California Adventure version of the attraction were acquired shortly before the park’s opening.
In 2004, Disney finally acquired the rights to The Muppets that Michael Eisner had so desperately wanted. This agreement came just months before Eisner’s departure from the company. With Eisner no longer running the show, The Muppets were not high on the priorities and were not added in any additional locations throughout the Disney parks.