Walt Disney World Chronicles: Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 18, 2014 Issue #756 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

Muppet Vision 3DThe much anticipated film "Muppets Most Wanted" will debut in movie theaters in March 2014, as a sequel to the critically and financially successful The Muppets movie from 2011. Both films were produced by The Walt Disney Company.

The partnership of The Muppets franchise and the Walt Disney Company had a rocky beginning but fortunately had a happy ending.

Jim Henson, creator and original owner of the Muppets, placed his handprints in the concrete in the forecourt of the Chinese Theater at Disney Hollywood Studios on August 28, 1989. He drew a picture of a smiling Kermit the Frog waving his left hand. Then, Henson gently imprinted the hands of his own personal Kermit puppet and signed Kermit's name. At the time, Henson was in final negotiations to sell his Muppet characters to the Disney Company. Part of that proposed contract was that Henson would develop new projects for Disney, including a children's television half-hour series titled "The Little Mermaid's Island," which would have had a live-action actress portraying Ariel interacting with puppets of Flounder, Sebastian and others. Unfortunately, with Henson's untimely death in May 1990, all of these projects that were in various stages of completion were cancelled.

However, one very special attraction survived. The Muppet*Vision 3D attraction opened at Disney-MGM Studios in May 1991 and at Disney's California Adventure in February 2001.

The 17-minute theme park show is an innovative mixture of 3-D film, Audio-Animatronics characters (including hecklers Statler and Waldorf, a full penguin orchestra, Bean Bunny and an irate Swedish Chef) and even a full-sized live Muppet performer: the massive Sweetums. The attraction showcases Muppet*Vision, the newest technological advancement from Muppet Labs. During a behind-the-scenes tour of Muppet Labs to demonstrate this wonder, Waldo C. Graphic, the very first CGI 3-D Muppet, is created and throughout the rest of the show, he tries to find a way to escape. In addition, a dejected Bean Bunny runs away after having his feelings hurt trying to assist Miss Piggy in her big musical number. Some of the other Muppets form a search party to find him and they do locate him just in time for Sam the Eagle's big grand finale production number "A Salute to All Nations (But Mostly America)." Waldo disrupts the finale and a shooting match develops between the penguins and the Chef who is running the projector at the back of the theater. When the smoke clears, the theater itself through a clever illusion appears to have holes blown through the walls. Through a huge hole in the back wall of the stage, a fire truck backs in with Kermit riding on the ladder. He informs the audience the theater only suffered minor damage and drives back out as he tells the guests to enjoy the rest of their day. As the curtains close, Waldo reappears once again and turns himself into Mickey Mouse (animated by Andreas Deja and voiced by Wayne Allwine) but he is quickly vacuumed out of the show and the lights come up as the walls magically restore themselves.

The density of detail for Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3-D begins outside the theater and continues through the twelve minute pre-show with video monitors featuring the antics of Rizzo, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear and others as they prepare for the big show. The 584-seat interior of the theater itself was designed to remind guests of the one seen in the classic The Muppet Show television series that entertained audiences in its original run from 1976-1981.

The producer of the original show was Imagineer Mark Eades who told me in an exclusive interview:

"The first meetings were a series of show-and-tell and brainstorm meetings. I was the lead on explaining the difficulties of making a 3-D show work (since I had worked on Captain EO). One of the themes I always hit on with (Henson) while ideas were being floated about was how the Muppets always broke down the fourth wall.

"This was about the time we had started experimenting with the Pani effects projectors that could change the look of a building and were going to be used in the lagoon show (Illuminations) at Epcot. I remember saying to him that now not only could he break down the fourth wall in his 3-D movie, he could blow it up. Little did I know at that time that was what we would end up doing!"

The concept itself evolved out of those meetings. Bill Prady, a Henson writer, was tasked with organizing the ideas into a story. After several meetings, Prady had the first storyline. It was essentially an introduction to Bean Bunny and all the other famous Muppets had cameos. Bean Bunny first appeared in 1986 as the star of the TV special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic. In 1989, Bean joined the cast of The Jim Henson Hour, appearing in both the control room and "televised" portions of the MuppeTelevision segments.

Henson made Bean Bunny the star because he wanted to develop his newest character, but the WDW Imagineers pointed out that theme park attractions based on familiar existing character worked better for Disney guests.

"Jim was very involved with the project," stated Eades. "He was genuinely interested in doing theme park attractions. I think Jim liked that it would be something people could see for a long time in an environment like a Disney theme park. I think he also liked doing something new, unique and groundbreaking."

Kathy Rogers was the show producer. Paul Osterhaut was the production designer for the theater. David Jones did a lot of work on the pre-show video. Jim Mulder, Bob Joslin, Ray Spencer and more did all the in-theater effects work.
Peter Anderson was the 3-D director of photography. Pacific Data Images (PDI) were responsible for the Waldo CGI character. PDI later became part of Dreamworks. The Chandler Group did all the optical work on the film. The opticals were all done on a 65 millimeter optical printer to keep everything as close to pristine as possible.

"The entire project was done in California, except for the actual installation," remembered Eades. "The film was shot almost entirely on Stage 3 at the Disney Studios, the same stage that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) was filmed on. We needed the water tank for Miss Piggy's musical number. The Miss Piggy number was the first sequence filmed. It took several days.

"Then we moved over to the other side of the stage for the Muppet Labs sequences, both the hallway and the Bunsen Honeydew set. Then we went outside to the old Town Square on the backlot from Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) for the brick wall blowing up shot and the last shot when Kermit comes in on the fire truck ladder. Then we moved back to the other side of stage 3 where the Miss Piggy set was which was now black for the entire patriotic finale which was done against a black backdrop."

The film, directed completely by Henson himself, had been finished way under budget. After a test showing it was decided that a few things needed to be tweaked and there was more than enough in the remaining budget so it could be done. Everyone took a short vacation with plans to get back together and figure out how to enhance the film. During that vacation break, Henson passed away.

"About a month later we got together to figure things out with the Henson creative team including Frank Oz, Bill Prady and others. We storyboarded some new scenes, including a slightly different bit about Bean Bunny running away, and scheduled a re-shoot," recalled Eades. "Frank Oz directed the new scenes and we did a temp mix up at Skywalker Ranch. Another test showing and the film was signed off.

"Then, the Henson family asked that everyone involved from their side walk away (because contract negotiations had broken down with the Walt Disney Company) and we had to finish the film, including all the Waldo CGI, much of which was added as a result of the new stuff, without them, including all the performers. We had already done the looping so we had all the dialog."

Finally, Brian Henson, Jim Henson's son, broke the logjam by watching the finished attraction and realizing it would be a wonderful final tribute to his father. He was instrumental in getting the Henson family to sign off on an arrangement so the attraction could open.

"Finally when that deal was ironed out to let us open the attraction, it just sort of opened," remarked Eades. "No real fanfare. It was too bad. We actually opened it for a couple of days after everything was first done, then it had to close for a while due to those unresolved contract issues."

While most Disney guests have favorite jokes in the pre-show area of the attraction, Eades revealed to me some stories about the actual presentation:

"Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's Muppet*Vision 3-D machine has a conveyor with actual Magic Eye Theater 3-D glasses on it. Also watch out for some of the lesser Muppet characters when in the hallway of the Muppet labs.

"Statler and Waldorf have an extra set of arms to wave the white flags. There were also supposed to be arrows in the walls around them, but they were never very visible and I believe they were turned off eventually.

"During the production of the patriotic finale the scene with the cannon shots, one of the patriotic characters was in front of the cannon blast during a take. The blast blew the character's arm off. Steve Whitmire, the performer, had the character stage this way over-acted death scene before Jim Henson finally yelled cut. The entire crew was in stitches. Jim walked up, laughing so hard he could hardly talk, and told Steve it was an excellent performance and that if he ever lost his arm again not to die like that ever again. We were laughing so hard that it took almost 45 minutes to get everyone settled down so we could shoot the scene again."

For more than 20 years, Muppet*Vision 3D has kept alive the spirit and original genius of Jim Henson while it has entertained hundreds of thousands of Disney theme park visitors.



Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives:

Jim also writes for the AllEars® Guest Blog every other week, contributing entries under the heading of "Jim's Attic." Find his latest entry, a history of Tony's Town Square Restaurant, here:




Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, his skills and historical knowledge were utilized by Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of several books, available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.

— The recently released, "The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse," is more than 300 hundred pages covering the life and career of Mickey Mouse, with thousands of facts, quotes and stories about Walt Disney's famous alter-ego.

"The Vault of Walt, Volume 2: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told"


"Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?"

"The REVISED Vault of Walt": Paperback Version / Kindle version


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.