UPDATE: It has been reported by trustworthy sources that Steve Whitmire’s website is, in fact, Steve Whitmire’s. However, I have not changed the body of this piece because I would like it to be preserved as written and I believe its points are all still valid. It should also be acknowledged that, among the other fansites listed in the third letter, Muppet Stuff is in agreement with most (if not all) of the positions stated here. I was unaware of this at the time when I wrote this piece, and I apologize to anyone who feels they may have been excluded – it is not my intention to lump all Muppet fans into the group I’ve depicted in the third letter (even some of the fans who’ve signed a petition or two about this issue may not necessarily fit into that group). All I want is for the fans to take this opportunity to consider WWJD: What would Jim do? If he would respond to current events respectfully, let’s honor his legacy by doing the same.
The news has broken that Steve Whitmire is no longer with the Muppets, and the role of Kermit the Frog has been handed to Matt Vogel (with Statler seemingly going to Peter Linz). You can listen to what I had to say about this in a recent episode of Muppet Fans Talking by clicking here.
At this time, the whole Muppet world is sad, confused, and somewhat broken. Once I heard this news, I knew our community was in for a more heated summer than usual. As I continue to read news reports and take in fans’ reactions, I have three distinct thoughts, – Open Letters, if you will – which I’d like to share.
Dear Steve Whitmire,
I sincerely hope you understand just how much you mean to us fans. I don’t know anyone who read the news about your departure and felt like you had let us down – you haven’t done that.
Most of us don’t know how to feel about what has happened. We don’t know how to process it. We want to blame someone, and we don’t know who to blame. But what we do know is how much you gave to the Muppets and how much you gave to the fans.
We still respect that immensely.
After Jim Henson passed, we needed someone who could carry on his spirit through Kermit and the Muppets, and you did just that. You kept Kermit alive, and better yet, you evolved him. For the whole time you’ve been performing Kermit, which has been since before I was born, I’ve felt like Kermit was a living, breathing person. I’ve felt like I know him. That’s an amazing accomplishment on your part, for which I am forever grateful.
After Frank Oz retired, we needed someone who would continue to ensure that all of the Muppets continued to have a reality to them, and they wouldn’t be treated like any of Disney’s other characters. You defended the Muppets when they needed a defender, Steve, and you did it well. Because of you, the Muppets stood apart in the Disney company as a group of personalities, not just a group of names and faces.
I’m frankly anxious about what the Muppets could become without you, but I don’t feel like you’ve let me down. You gave us outstanding performances that not only inspired me as an artist, but that made two great Muppet movies and a hilarious TV show possible. I think I can speak for the whole Muppet fan community when I say that we’ve been proud to have someone like you – someone dedicated to Jim, his characters, and his fans – as our fandom’s leader. We all look forward to seeing what you do in the future.
Thanks a million,
J. D. Hansel
Dear Matt Vogel,
Do you know why we fans loved having Steve Whitmire perform Kermit? I think there are two reasons. The first is that he’s a killer puppeteer – an outstanding performer both physically and vocally who understood the psychology of his characters perfectly. The second is that we fans felt like he really cared about and respected us.
So I have good news for you.
We all know that you’re a fantastic puppeteer – we love your work. We would have watched Muppets Most Wanted just for Constantine and The Muppets (2015) just for Uncle Deadly. Seriously.
We also know that you really care about the fans. As far as I’m concerned, “Below the Frame” was the greatest gift I could have asked for, and having my questions answered by you directly was like a dream come true. “Below the Frame” brought the performers and the fans closer together in a way that hadn’t happened before. That’s a very special thing. Thank you for that.
But I know this may not be exactly what you want to hear. In fact, I may be making things worse. I might be putting too much pressure on you. After all, if you were so great as Uncle Deadly, what if we all expect you to be just as perfect as Kermit right from the get-go (if such a thing is even possible)? If you were so great at interacting with fans before you had Kermit to manage, will we still love you even if you don’t have as much time for us anymore?
I know that, the more we say we have high hopes for you because of how great your work has been in the past, the more we seem to raise our expectations of you. I know it sounds like we expect you to be a fantastic Kermit from day one, and you’re worried about letting us down.
Don’t be. Take your time.
We’re well aware that Steve’s Kermit took time, so it only makes sense for your Kermit to take even longer since you didn’t work alongside Jim for twelve years. If your Kermit is a bit off at first, or even if it sounds too much like Constantine, those of us with fansites are going to try our darnedest to keep the fan community polite and patient, as it should be.
With how much you’ve given to the Muppets, we owe you all the time and support you need to make this transition as manageable as possible. We wish you the best of luck.
Oh, and congratulations! You did it! You’re a fan like us – one of our own – and now you’re Kermit the Frog. That makes us very proud.
All the best,
J. D. Hansel
Dear Muppet fan community,
What are you freaking doing?
You say you’re “not going to stand for this.” Well what exactly are you gonna do about it? Make an angry YouTube video? Send a profane Tweet? March outside Disneyland with a picket sign?
Put down your motherfroging pitchfork.
Anger alone isn’t going to solve anything. Believe me, I’d really like to see Steve Whitmire as Kermit again too. And as Beaker and Rizzo and Statler and Lips. But what do you think Disney is going to see when a measly 400 people get into a ranty mood on Facebook?
Do you think they’ll see an Army of Warriors for Truth and Justice and fear that you’ll put an end to the Muppets Studio if it doesn’t put aside its evil ways and acquiesce to your demands? Do you expect the mouse to cower?
Get over yourself.
What Disney will see is the same thing they see whenever any change like this is made: a bunch of cranky fanboys and fangirls whining about not getting their way. Nobody responds well to that.
So as you snark on social media, ask yourself: what have you done to support Steve (besides complaining, which doesn’t count)? Have you written a thank you post? Have you made a tribute of some sort? Fan art? Anything? Even a Haiku? If the recasting of Kermit had been the result of Steve Whitmire dying instead of being (allegedly) let go, wouldn’t the Muppet fan world be flooded with love right now instead of anger and hate? Well guess what. STEVE IS STILL HERE. You now have the chance of a lifetime – the chance to tell someone how much you miss him and his work and how much you appreciate his legacy while he’s still alive to hear it!
Are you doing this? Are you responding to your sadness with love like Jim Henson would want, or are you letting your un-Jim-ly anger consume you? Are you being grateful, or just mad?
And what of Matt? How do you think he feels right now? Have you made him feel like we’ll be supportive of him, or have you only added to the negativity and pressure he’s already feeling?
Now, I know what you might be thinking: how can we be supportive of Matt and the other performers when they continued to give their service to a company that did this to Steve?
Well first of all, look at it this way: if you knew that Kermit was going to be re-cast whether you liked it or not, wouldn’t it be your duty to make sure the new performer would do the character justice?
And here’s a second thing to consider: just how much do you know about this situation? How do you know there isn’t a good reason why Steve was let go? Heck, if Dave Goelz was willing to stick around without his buddy Steve, don’t you think the decision just might be justified? More importantly, do you even know that the website saying Steve was “let go” is legit? Are you sure Steve didn’t quit? Do you know Steve wasn’t sick? Are you really so entrenched in this narrative that Big Hollywood is always evil that you’re willing to sign your name on a petition without knowing a shred of what actually happened? Are you in possession of actual facts showing that Disney was definitely in the wrong and Steve must be re-hired? Really?
What I see in the Muppet fan world right now is arrogance. Arrogance and hate. That’s depressingly disappointing. It’s not something I can be proud of, and it’s not something Jim would be proud of either.
Please, my Muppet fan friends, I implore you, listen to Jarrod, the Pigs, and me. Be respectful to everyone right now. React the way you think Jim would. Show love. Show that Jim Henson made our fan community better than the others by teaching us to put the needs and feelings of others before our own.
If you want to take the Internet by storm and show it just how important Steve Whitmire is to the Muppets and their fans, I’m with you. But we must do it by showing our love, not our anger. If anything might persuade Disney to reconsider, that just might. So let’s blast the world with so much adoration and respect for both Steve and Matt that they won’t know what to do with themselves.
Only then can we call ourselves true followers of Jim.
J. D. Hansel
Written by J. D. Hansel, with Steve Swanson.