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Brie Larson in 'The Marvels' flanked by The Muppets | Image: Disney

The Answer to Disney’s Misfire Problem Isn’t Marvel, It’s Muppets

The superhero epic, as we know it, is dead. After two decades of origin stories, multiverses of madness and Marvel overload, the blockbuster bubble has finally burst. Disney’s latest effort The Marvels has suffered an embarrassing box-office drubbing, taking in just USD$10.2 million in its second weekend, a 78 per cent drop from its underwhelming opening weekend figures. The Captain Marvel sequel now lays claim to an unenviable record; the worst first and second weekends in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For Disney, the writing may well be on the wall, but all is not lost. There is a solution and it involves puppets.

Earlier this week, Disney+ confirmed the unceremonious cancellation of The Muppets Mayhem after just one season. The 10-episode musical comedy series failed to gain traction with the Disney+ audience, partially due to the over-reliance on pop-culture references from a decade ago but more so due to the fact that no one knew it was on. Honestly, was anyone even aware this show existed? I certainly wasn’t and I am a 30-year-old manchild who writes about TV for a living and has seen every Muppets film ever produced.

The cancellation of The Muppets Mayhem, coupled with the underperforming Marvel flicks may seem like two independent issues, but I believe there is an opportunity to address the two head-on. My proposal is this: Just make more Muppets movies.

Image about Michael Caine and Tim Curry in Muppets films | Image: Sephiramy/Tumblr
Image: Sephiramy/Tumblr

I grew up watching The Muppets Christmas Carol every holiday season in my household and more than 20 years later, it still holds up. Casting Michael Caine as Scrooge was a stroke of genius and I will still argue the point that Muppets Treasure Island is the greatest adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic ever committed to film – that is a hill that I am comfortable dying on. So why is Disney dropping the ball on our felt friends?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a spate of Muppets-themed adventures is going to net $100 billion or even make a blip on the radar, but wouldn’t it be nice to see an Alien adaptation where the embryonic Xenomorph bursting out of Gonzo’s chest isn’t an extra-terrestrial being, but rather Pepe the King Prawn? Or a cinematic universe where Rizzo assassinates a rival mobster before turning around and exclaiming; ‘Leave the gun, take the cannolis’? Think of how funny it would be to see the Swedish Chef fire up Steelers Wheel and menacingly cut the ears off his hostage à la Mr Blonde in Reservoir Dogs.

Adam driver
Image: neon_heartbeat/Twitter

Do I have a vested interest in this? No. Do I think that this will be successful? Also no. Am I simply using this platform to convince a multi-billion corporation to make large creative decisions based purely on what I personally find funny? Absolutely, but think of the options!

  • Muppets Romeo & Juliet
  • Muppets Rear Window
  • Muppets Batman
  • Muppets Great Gatsby
  • Muppets Moby Dick
  • Muppets Count of Monte Cristo

Hell, Disney could even leverage its existing IP to create Muppets versions of its classic films and series, helping to build interest and nostalgia in the entertainment giant’s stellar back catalogue. Better yet, by slowing the rate of Marvel films down, Disney can steadily rebuild the MCU brand value and focus on crafting more compelling and distinctive offerings.

Reddit post about Disney's attempts at Muppets films | Image: LawrenceBrolivier/Reddit
Image: LawrenceBrolivier/Reddit

In a way, I strangely feel for the Disney program directors. A company once built on light-hearted family entertainment now finds itself at the helm of the largest pop-culture phenomenon in film history. A slave to the money-making Goliath that is Marvel, matched only by fellow IP, Star Wars, Disney has transitioned firmly into the superhero game and it’s not been an easy ride.

The dismal performance of The Marvels follows a string of misfires from the Disney-owned IP. Earlier this year, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania bombed with audiences just months after the technicolour nightmare that was Thor: Love and Thunder was unveiled. The problem is simple; too many heroes and not enough heart.

Since taking the MCU to streaming in 2019, Disney has dropped a whopping 13 Marvel films, most of which involve superheroes nobody knows and characters with little to no backstory. We’ve now entered the ‘Fruits of the Forest’ jam era of Marvel, where characters who aren’t interesting enough to get their own standalone offering are smooshed together in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. The result is a sticky mess that leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

The strength of The Muppets has always been their ability to use stereotypes to hold a mirror to pop culture. The animalistic drummer with the one-track mind, the slightly too-plump screen harlot, the senile hecklers; these classic characters were all grounded in reality and that gave the show some semblance of a heart. At their core, The Muppets are about family, something you can’t necessarily say for Marvel’s overinflated CGI-heavy slate of superheroes.

Great expectations
Image: softart/Reddit

I’ll finish by saying simply this – Disney isn’t making bad projects at all. In fact, the entertainment company is pumping out incredible projects regularly, it’s just that the company’s vision seems a little skewed. No one is asking for live-action remakes of classic animations the same way nobody wants to watch a standalone film about Hindsight Lad, but they draw attention away from great original pieces like The Muppets Mayhem, What We Do In The Shadows and Fire of Love.

Unlike many companies in the tech and entertainment space, Disney’s issue isn’t that it’s being run by a bunch of muppets. The problem is that maybe it should be.