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The Walt Disney Company

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The Walt Disney Company is the largest media and entertainment conglomerate in the world, known mainly for its family-friendly products. Founded in 1923, by brothers Walt Disney (1901-1966) and Roy O. Disney (1893-1971) as an animation studio, it has become one of the biggest Hollywood studios, and owner and licensor of eleven theme parks and several television networks, including ABC and ESPN. Mickey Mouse serves as the official mascot of The Walt Disney Company.

The company acquired the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House franchises in February 2004, forming The Muppets Studio, LLC (formerly Muppets Holding Company, LLC).

Early Disney/Henson attempts (1980s-1990)


Miss Piggy, Mickey Mouse, Michael Eisner, Jim Henson, and Kermit the Frog


In the early 1980s, Jim Henson considered purchasing the company which was then under the management team of Ron Miller and Roy E. Disney (1930-2009). The idea never went as far as negotiations, but a few years later when Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over, the idea was revived. Due to lack of activity with the Muppets after The Muppet Show’s run, Disney decided to pass on a merger.[1]

Another aspect that made the deal unattractive for Eisner was that the Sesame Street franchise was untouchable. Joan Ganz Cooney recalled that "In the end... at the end of his life, when he was being pursued by Disney, and very close to being bought by Disney... they had tried to get control of the Sesame Street product as well as the Muppet franchise, and Jim said 'that's a deal breaker'... they should remain entirely separate... He said to me 'I intend to leave with you... in my will.' He wanted it to go on in perpetuity." [2]

Jim Henson again had a desire to sell the company to Disney in 1989, and this time Michael Eisner was more willing to buy the company without getting the rights to the Sesame Street cast (though Eisner did still want to have the rights to the Sesame Street Muppets).[3]

In 1990, Jim Henson died during the week that he was to sign the contract, and his family decided to keep the company private.

After Henson's death (1990-2004)


Memorial by Joe Lanzisero and Tim Kirk


Memorial by Disney artist and animator Don 'Ducky' Williams

Many projects were planned; however due to Henson's untimely death, very few came to fruition. Among the Disney/Henson collaborations that have been seen are the 1990 special The Muppets at Walt Disney World (one of the few collaborations to be released before Henson's passing), the stage show Here Come the Muppets, and the theme park attraction/film Muppet*Vision 3D. Among the projects that were made but never shown to the public are the proposed TV series Little Mermaid's Island for Disney Channel, and a segment for The Mickey Mouse Club about puppeteering (this sequence was filmed while Jim Henson was making Muppet*Vision 3D). Also in development were several theme park attractions, including The Great Muppet Movie Ride and The Great Gonzo's Pandemonium Pizza Parlor, and a Muppet takeover of Disneyland, renaming it Muppetland, which were abandoned once the Disney/Henson deal dissolved. The Jim Henson Company also produced Mother Goose Stories, an original series for Disney Channel, which did not air until after Henson's death. Jim Henson had also pitched the series Dinosaurs, which Disney developed and released after Henson died.

Throughout the 1990s The Jim Henson Company partnered with Disney. The Walt Disney Company produced and released The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, the first two Muppet movies made after Jim Henson died, and for a time in the early '90s, controlled the video release rights to The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, episodes of Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies, and other properties, released through their Buena Vista Home Entertainment label (under a label titled Jim Henson Video). In addition, Walt Disney Home Video released a number of Sesame Street videos in the UK. Muppets Tonight was also produced for the Disney-owned ABC network and Disney Channel. Disney also produced Bear in the Big Blue House with The Jim Henson Company for Disney Channel.

All the character illustrators at Walt Disney World were asked to create concept sketches to choose from for the condolence card to be presented to the Henson family from Walt Disney World. Each artist created several.

Disney acquires the Muppets (2004)


The Walt Disney Company welcomes the Muppets into the Disney family in the 2004 Annual Report.

The company acquired the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House franchises in 2004, forming Muppets Holding Company, LLC (later retitled The Muppets Studio, LLC).

The Walt Disney Company and The Jim Henson Company announced on February 17, 2004 that they had entered into an agreement under which Disney would acquire the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House properties from Henson. The parties signed a binding purchase agreement, with the transaction closing in April 2004 after receiving the necessary regulatory clearances.

The transaction included all Muppet assets, including the Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal characters, the Muppet film and television library, and all associated copyrights and trademarks, as well as all the Bear in the Big Blue House characters, television library, copyrights and trademarks. The transaction did not include the Sesame Street characters, which are separately owned by Sesame Workshop, nor did it include Fraggle Rock and other franchises, which The Jim Henson Company retained. The deal also included non-exclusive production and consulting agreements under which Henson would develop potential new programming featuring the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House for Disney. Sesame Workshop has permission from Disney to use old Kermit segments from Sesame Street in new DVD releases, show several Kermit scenes on newer episodes, Play With Me Sesame, online, have Kermit make a cameo appearance on Elmo's World: Frogs and appear on the cover of Sesame Street DVDs such as Silly Storytime and Best of Sesame Street Spoofs!. Lionsgate got permission from Disney to use the Muppets characters on the 2010 DVD releases of Henson's Place, Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, and Dog City: The Movie.

The Muppets Studio (2004-present)


The Muppets Studio logo


Kermit and Animal in front of the Disney logo as seen in the second trailer for The Muppets

The Muppets Studio, LLC (formerly Muppets Holding Company, LLC) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. It was formed in February 2004 after Disney acquired ownership the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House characters from The Jim Henson Company. The company manages the use of the Muppets characters and trademarks and serves as the production house for many Muppet projects. Since February 2006, the Muppets characters have been built and maintained by the Puppet Heap Workshop.

The Muppets Studio has been managed by Chris Curtin (2004-2005), Russell Hampton (2005-2006) and Lylle Breier (2006-present).

The first major production of The Muppets Studio was The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, a television movie that was already in development with ABC prior to Disney's purchase of the Muppets. The Muppets Studio logo became the signature on productions of the company; web series such as From the Balcony and The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora, television specials like Studio DC: Almost Live on Disney Channel, and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa which aired on NBC. The logo was also added to home video releases by Buena Vista Home Entertainment (including The Muppet Show season box sets, Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition DVDs, and other Muppet titles). In 2007, The Muppets Studio collaborated with Walt Disney Imagineering to create the Muppet Mobile Lab. In 2009, the company launched an official YouTube channel, a promotional Twitter feed, and an official Facebook page. In late 2009-early 2010, the Muppets were featured in the Give a Day. Get a Disney Day. campaign for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. In 2011, a new theatrical Muppet movie was released through Walt Disney Pictures, entitled The Muppets, and a sequel is currently in development. In 2012, an interactive game featuring the Muppets, The Case of the Stolen Show, debuted on the newest Disney Cruise ship, the Disney Fantasy.

Other logos;



Disney's Robin Hood in Sarah's scrapbook, from Labyrinth


Sesame Street's parody of Disney, MGM and Warner Bros.


Miss Piggy and Kermit at the 2012 Academy Awards in front of a picture of Walt Disney holding some of his Oscars.

Before The Walt Disney Company bought the Muppets, there had been a number of references in Muppet/Henson projects to Disney and its productions and characters. In recent years, such references to Disney in Muppet productions have occurred as cross-promotion. The Muppets have also been referenced and have made appearances in Disney projects as well.

  • On September 7, 2007, following Disney's purchase of the Muppets, a pin was released for sale only at Walt Disney World, featuring Kermit as Mickey Mouse, Miss Piggy as Minnie Mouse, Fozzie Bear as Goofy and Rizzo the Rat as Tinker Bell.
  • A Sesame Street sketch parodying The Lion King was introduced as a "Walt Dizzy Film," with a small Warner Bros.-like logo below, and an MGM-like circle with a chicken in the spot of the studio's trademark lion.
  • In the Sesame Street Season 42 press kit, Baby Bear's "Monsterbook" profile lists one of his favorite songs as "Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book.

For other references, connections, appearances, or mentions, see the following:

Disney animation
Disney TV
Disney Movies
Theme parks
Video games


  1. Bernie Brillstein, Where Did I Go Right?, p.327
  2. Interview: "Time Travel with Dan Hollis & Jeff O'Boyle"
  3. Davis, Michael Street Gang, page 6.

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