Frank Oz might be synonymous with The Muppets, but the former voice actor and puppeteer for the series says he’s not welcome at Disney for any of the modern continuations of the franchise. persona non grata with the franchise these days. Oz, now 77, was just 19 years old when he joined Jim Henson in working on the Muppets in 1963. Along with performing several major characters, Oz was also a driving force of The Muppet Show behind the scenes.
Frank Oz and Jim Henson would collaborate on other projects in the coming decades, including Sesame Street, the Muppets movies, and Labyrinth. Sadly, Henson died in 1990 due to streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, a condition caused by bacterial infections. Oz would go on to work on the additional Muppets movies released in the 1990s, but Disney did not bring him back after rebooting the franchise in 2011. He also hasn’t been back at Sesame Street since that same year.
In a new interview with The Guardian, Oz says that this is all because he’s persona non grata at Disney. He explains how things were never the same with the Muppets franchise following Henson’s death, as the true spirit of what The Muppets are was lost somewhere along the way in the coming years. At the time of Henson’s death, he was negotiating with Disney head Michael Eisner about selling the Muppets. Given how quickly Henson got sick and died, Oz believes that the stressful negotiations with Disney were what led to his illness, and ultimately his passing.
“The Disney deal is probably what killed Jim. It made him sick. Eisner was trying to get Sesame Street, too, which Jim wouldn’t allow. But Jim was not a dealer, he was an artist, and it was destroying him, it really was.”
Ultimately, Disney would acquire the Muppets in 2004, and Oz notes that there’s a “demarcation line between the Jim Henson Muppets and the Disney Muppets.” He hasn’t worked on anything Muppet-related since 2007, leading to speculation he may have retired, but that’s apparently not the case. Oz says he’d be happy to do more with the Muppets, just as he would Sesame Street, but nobody will give him the call. He theorizes that this could be due to his insistence on maintaining the spirit of the original series.
“There’s an inability for corporate America to understand the value of something they bought. They never understood, with us, it’s not just about the puppets, it’s about the performers who love each other and have worked together for many years. I’d love to do the Muppets again but Disney doesn’t want me, and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me for 10 years. They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in. [I can’t watch it now because] the soul’s not there. The soul is what makes things grow and be funny. But I miss them and love them.”
Some fans would agree that The Muppets just aren’t the same anymore, as the new incarnations are not without their criticism. The voices of the characters in particular have drawn some complaints from longtime fans. For many, there will never be any topping the original series with Henson and Oz so heavily involved. You can check out the full interview with Oz at The Guardian.