Tom Warburton, executive producer for the reimagined Muppet Babies, talks to TV Kids about the show, which follows the playroom adventures of such iconic characters as Kermit the Frog, Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal, as well as the brand-new Summer Penguin.
Earlier this year, Disney Junior began airing an animated remake of Muppet Babies, with the original having debuted some 30 years ago. The CGI series is co-production between Disney Junior, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media’s (DCPI) Content & Media group and The Muppets Studio. There are a number of nonlinear extensions supporting the reboot, including books from Disney Publishing Worldwide and an exclusive toy line from Just Play. Muppet Babies will also become available on Disney DVD as of August 14.
TV KIDS: What led to the decision to reimagine Muppet Babies and how did you become attached as an executive producer?
WARBURTON: Disney, when they acquired The Muppets Studio, had been looking to do some projects with these classic, iconic characters, and they realized that for the younger audience, kids don’t know who these characters are; they haven’t had any shows for them. So a group at Disney Interactive did a little test, and they said, What if we make the Muppet Babies look like real Muppets? We have the technology to do that, to give them that great fur and the tennis ball texture on Kermit. So they did a little test and it really wowed Disney Junior. I had been working on another project for Disney Junior that was winding down called The 7D and I got a call from Nancy Kanter [general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide] at one point and she said, I’ve got this show and I think you’d be perfect for it. And I said, OK, what have you got? And she said, We’re rebooting Muppet Babies and you’ve got to see this test that Disney Interactive did. And she showed me the test and I was like, Oh my gosh! I could do something with this; this would be amazing. To have the opportunity to bring these characters to a new audience—what a thrill and what an honor!
TV KIDS: What are some of the themes and lessons in the show?
WARBURTON: It’s all about kid stuff with a Muppet twist to it. One of my favorites is when Gonzo becomes best friends with a potato. The other Muppets are like, You can’t be best friends with a potato, but Gonzo absolutely does that. And so they try to include Potato in some games, like tag, and they try to put on a play with Potato, but it’s a potato, and they’re like, This isn’t any fun. And so Gonzo is hurt; he’s like, Well, if you don’t want to be friends with me and Potato we’ll go play by ourselves. And the kids realize, Oh, now we feel bad! And the message—aside from being silly that Gonzo is friends with a potato—is about inclusion. Not everyone can do the things you can do, but you can still find a way to play with them. And in the end, they find that they can all play hot potato together. [Laughs] So, it’s messages like that. For another example: it’s Piggy’s birthday tomorrow, but she can’t wait until tomorrow, so they decide to build a time machine to get to tomorrow. And she learns that good things come to those who wait and patience is a good thing. So all of our stories have these great little messages without being super didactic and preachy; they’re just fun, silly things that have this great core moral message.
TV KIDS: It’s been more than three decades since the original show premiered. How are you making it more relatable to viewers today?
WARBURTON: The original show was for an older audience; it kind of captivated everyone, no matter what age you were. But our thing is it’s a preschool audience, so we have to tell stories that these kids will understand and at the same time, tell them so that adults are entertained. I think we’re doing that; we’re finding ways to get everyone involved. We work very closely with The Muppets Studio; we run stories by them and they’ll tell us, Kermit really wouldn’t say that. And when we were originally working on the show, they actually let us go to the real puppets and take pictures of the textures so we could get them right with our computer animation. The show is made by people who love the Muppets and want to do right by them. And so far, The Muppets Studio has been thrilled with what we’ve been doing.
TV KIDS: Why do you think the Muppets have been such evergreen characters over the years?
WARBURTON: They’re just a lovable bunch of weirdos who have big hearts. There are certain characters in this world that just have this magnetism. When we would go to preschools—we test all of our stories with preschool audiences—when we would introduce the characters, show them a picture of Kermit or a picture of Animal, their eyes instantly lit up. There’s just something about these guys that draw people in. The Muppets are about positivity, and right now we need a lot of that in this world, so that’s what we strive to do. It’s not a show that’s mean-spirited or about put-downs; it’s about six friends. There are no villains in the show. There are just silly problems that the characters get themselves into and then find imaginative ways to solve.
TV KIDS: What’s in store for the future of the Muppet Babies reboot?
WARBURTON: Hopefully [a season two renewal] will be announced soon. We’re preparing; it’s not official or anything, but we’re hoping.
Working on Muppet Babies is a dream come true. I’ve always been a Muppets fan. We’ve put together this team of unbelievably creative writers, musicians and artists, and it’s really one of the most fun projects I’ve ever been on. I can’t wait for people to see the rest of the episodes coming out this season and hopefully more seasons to come.