The Walt Disney Company is an American movie studio and entertainment company, dealing in everything from feature films and television, to various theme parks located around the world. The company acquired the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House franchises in 2004, forming the Muppets Studio (formerly Muppets Holding Company, LLC).
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 and Roy Disney 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.
Early Disney/Henson attempts (1980s-1990)
In the early 1980s, Jim Henson considered purchasing the company which was then under the management team of Ron Miller and Roy Disney. 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.
Another aspect unattractive to the deal 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." 
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).
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)
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 1989 special The Muppets at Walt Disney World (one of the few colaborations 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 The Little Mermaid's Island, 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, which were abandoned once the Disney/Henson deal disolved. The Jim Henson Company also produced Mother Goose Stories, an original series for the 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). 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 the Disney Channel.
Disney acquires the Muppets (2004)
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. 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.
The Muppets Studio (2004-present)
The Muppets Studio (formerly Muppets Holding Company) is a limited liability company that is wholly owned by the Walt Disney Company. The subsidiary was formed in 2004 after acquiring the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House characters from the Jim Henson Company. The company manages the use of the Muppet characters and serves as the production house for many Muppet projects.
The first major production of The Muppets Studio was The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, a tele-film that was already in development with ABC prior to Disney's purchase of the Muppets. The Muppets Studios logo became the signature on productions of the company, such as the Web series From the Balcony, Studio DC: Almost Live and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. 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 2009 the Muppets Studio launched a YouTube channel, a promotional Twitter feed, and an official Facebook page.
Before The Walt Disney Company bought the Muppets, there have been a number of references in Muppet/Henson projects to Disney and its productions and characters. More recently, such references have occurred as cross-promotion in merchandise. The Muppets have also been referenced and have made appearances in Disney projects as well.
- A number of songs from Disney movies have been sung on The Muppet Show, including "Never Smile at a Crocodile", "An Actor's Life For Me", "It's a Small World", "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", and "When You Wish Upon a Star".
- In Labyrinth, a panning shot of Sarah's scrapbook reveals an image of the fox version of Robin Hood, as seen in the 1973 Disney animated film.
- 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.
- In episode 320 of The Muppet Show, during the song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, after the lion sings "I like Plato and you like Pluto", Sylvester Stallone says "You can have Plato, and I'll stick with Pluto, and Mickey, and Goofy".
- A Sesame Street sketch parodying The Lion King is introduced as a "Walt Dizzy Film."
For other references, connections, appearances, or mentions, see the following:
- ↑ Bernie Brillstein, Where Did I Go Right?, p.327
- ↑ Interview: "Time Travel with Dan Hollis & Jeff O'Boyle"
- ↑ Davis, Michael Street Gang, page 6.