When news dropped last week that the puppeteer behind Kermit the Frog since 1990 was on the outs, we had hoped this was a simple case of a man riding off into the sunset of retirement after a job well done. But, that would be easy, and we all know that’s not how things go for Kermit. Reports are starting to trickle out about why Disney and puppeteer Steve Whitmire parted ways, and it sounds like Disney reps didn’t enjoy talking to this particular hand much.
Part two of this story kicked off with a post on Whitmire’s blog and an interview he did with The Hollywood Reporter. In his blog, Whitmire talked a lot about the need to preserve Jim Henson’s original vision of the Muppets, something he expanded on in the interview. He said to THR that he was fired over a union dispute and copious notes provided to Disney producers during the quickly canceled one-season run of the Muppets a couple years back (that of the Miss Piggy-Kermit breakup). Whitmire characterized the breakup as his vision for the character clashing with what the higher-ups wanted.
That prompted a response from not only Disney, but the son and daughter of Jim Henson himself. Yesterday, the Muppet Studio got a little more specific about Whitmire’s firing, saying it was due to “repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years,” and that the decision to let Whitmire go was made with the support of Cheryl and Brian Henson.
The Henson children had stronger words. In a Facebook post, Cheryl Henson called Whitmire’s story “ridiculously self-serving” and said that his interpretation of Kermit wasn’t at all what Henson had imagined, while Brian Henson, somewhat reluctant to talk about the issue at all, said to The Hollywood Reporter, “I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point because I knew that it was going to be a real problem.” Brian Henson said there were problems with Whitmire since the 1990s, and that he would often make outrageous demands and be disrespectful to colleagues behind the scenes.
All of this seems really sad and unpleasant, as any disagreement that’s been simmering for over 20 years would be. Whoever’s telling the story closer to the truth, that disagreement is in the past now, with Disney already getting puppeteer Matt Vogel in as the new hand and voice behind Kermit.