By now I'm sure you have heard the news that Steve Whitmire, the longtime portrayer of Kermit the Frog (and other Muppets), has been fired after 27 years of playing the frog and 39 years of being with the group. At first, the circumstances of Whitmire's departure from the Muppets were unclear. Whitmire later released a statement revealing that Muppet Studio executives had made the decision to recast Kermit, citing two instances as the reason for the recast; Whittier's vocal input on the creative direction of the character, and what he described as a "union issue". Disney (who owns the Muppets) then released a statement claiming Whitmire had been fired due to "unacceptable business conduct". According to Brain Henson (who, along with his mother Jane, had handpicked Whittier to succeed his father in the role of Kermit after Jim Henson's death in 1990), Whitmire made "outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship" and commented that he should have recast Kermit long ago. While there are many sides to this story and new information is coming to light every day, one thing is clear: Muppet fans everywhere are now in a very weird position.
Of course I had heard the rumors over at r/Muppets about Whitmire being replaced (he hasn't appeared as the character since October 2016), but I didn't believe any of it until it was confirmed last week. I was genuinely shocked to hear that poor conduct was the reason being cited for the firing. I had always heard that Steve was such a nice guy and how supportive and appreciative he was of Muppet fans. Ever since this messy saga began Muppet fans have been falling on one of two sides: supporting Steve or supporting the faceless corporate entity that is Disney. Surely someone who has been with the Muppets since 1978 knows what is best for Kermit, better than a couple of executives who only care about the bottom line, right? That's the position being taken by many Muppets fans out there who are now boycotting Disney and petitioning to have Steve reinstated. Other fans are panicking, terrified about what this means for the future of the Muppets. Where do I find myself? Not scared, the Muppets have made it through much worse and always come back stronger than ever. But I'm not angry either. I'm trying my best to be supportive - of everyone. I accept the fact the Steve Whitmire is no longer apart of the Muppets and I wish both parties the best of luck in the future.
The Henson family backing up the claims made by Disney go a long way towards my thinking that they probably have merit. The Muppets is, above all else, a workplace. Like with all movies/television/theatre, there is a certain level of professionalism that must be maintained in order to deliver the best product possible. If Whitmire was repeatedly acting in an unprofessional and unbusinesslike manner, then I support Disney's decision to recast. Yes, it will be quite the adjustment for Muppet fans to get used to a new Kermit (I doubt most of the public would have even noticed a recast if it hadn't made the headlines), but I have complete faith in Matt Vogel, who will take over as Kermit (still no word as to who will take over Whitmire's other characters, including Rizzo the Rat and Beaker). Vogel was handpicked by the legendary Jerry Nelson to take over as the Count on Sesame Street and his portrayal of Constantine in Muppets Most Wanted was a highlight of that movie for me. He is supposedly making his debut as Kermit in a YouTube video sometime this week. A major test to see if he can get the fans on his side will be when the Muppets play the Hollywood Bowl in September. I'll be there, and I'll be sure to report back.
In my opinion, Jim Henson will always be the definitive Kermit. Jim simply was everything the Muppets stood for and his creation was iconic. But I fully believe since Steve took over in 1990, he has made Kermit his own and done an excellent job. His work in the two most recent movies and the recent TV show was brilliant and everything a Muppet fan could ask for. I must disagree with Brian Henson when he told the Hollywood Reporter that Kermit had "flattened out over time and not as vital as it should have been." Perhaps I have the benefit of having grown up with plenty examples of both puppeteer's interpretations of the frog, but if there was any marketable difference in his character it was because of the writing (which got quite lazy there for a while in the early 2000s), not the performer. In the same interview Henson also extolled the need for change and to not repeat yourself. Perhaps I misunderstood what he meant, but if he is implying that actor turnover is good for these characters, then I must disagree again. I can understand and sympathize under special circumstances like with the Kermit recast, but part of the reason people love the Muppets so much is because the palpable electricity between the characters. And a large part of that chemistry is because all the characters have more or less been portrayed by the same group of performers for years and years. The absolute worst thing that could come out of this Whitmire drama would be the idea that puppeteers are interchangeable and replaceable.
As a lifelong Muppet fan, I am saddened by the negative press this whole saga is bringing, but, as always, I remain hopeful for the future of these characters.
What are your thoughts on the Kermit recast? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!