Monday, March 25, 2013

That's entertainment - the Muppets, Star Wars...and Disney?

We have to be careful about reading too much into this, but it's still interesting.

In 1980, there was a popular TV show called "The Muppet Show," and there was a very popular movie called "Star Wars." Actually, two very popular movies - "The Empire Strikes Back" was released in 1980. This explains why Mark Hamill and several other Star Wars characters would make an appearance on The Muppet Show.

In true Muppets fashion, the Star Wars characters poked fun at the original film (without violating any of George Lucas' copyrights), and then transformed themselves into...a song and dance routine.

The song? An old movie tune called "When You Wish Upon a Star."

The ending of the song and dance number? The appearance of a castle behind the characters.

Remind you of anything?

In 1980, if you were to mention Star Wars, the Muppets, and the Walt Disney Company in the same breath, it would be very clear that one of those things was not like the others. Star Wars was the hottest movie franchise around, with two films released and a third film on the way. The Muppets had moved from educational television to having their own variety show, and had even released their own film, "The Muppet Movie," in 1979. Both brands were hot brands.

In 1980, Disney could not be characterized as "hot." The theme parks were doing well, and the studio was releasing movies such as "Freaky Friday." But Disney's science fiction entry, "The Black Hole," didn't give George Lucas any sleepless nights.

What a difference a few years makes. By the end of the 1980s, the company that was referenced at the end of the Muppets' song and dance number came very close to purchasing the Muppets themselves. And last year, as you may have heard, the Star Wars brand was sold to Disney.

Why? Because of Disney's longevity.

Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and George Lucas were all highly intelligent individuals who started amazing companies. But Walt's company had enough talented people (Roy Disney, Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Bob Iger, etc.) to allow his company to thrive as he got older, and even after he had passed away. The company has certainly had its fallow years, but has remained enough of an institution to ensure that it would continue to exist for a long time to come.

Perhaps the Hensons and the George Lucas team could have chosen to institutionalize their companies so that they could continue for decades to come. And, for what it's worth, the Jim Henson Company is still a going concern. However, "[i]n May 2003, The Jim Henson Company transferred the rights and ownership of 'The Muppets' and 'Bear in the Big Blue House' characters to The Walt Disney Company."

So maybe all of the parties can re-create that old 1980 song and dance number.
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