Disney Doubles Down on Fading 70s Puppet Show

While its rival opens up yet another ho-hum thrill ride based on a monkey from the 1930s, Disney has revolutionized the theme park business with announcements for not one but two next-generation themed experiences, aimed squarely at the emerging Millenial audience.

Dubbed a “Potter-killer” by industry pundits (a reference to Universal’s well-received Harry Potter lands), the two Disney experiences are expected to draw massive — and decidedly younger, more hip — crowds to the aging Orlando property.

First up will be an anchor restaurant to a new Muppet Courtyard area of Hollywood Studios. PizzeRizzo — scheduled to open in October of this year — will feature cafeteria-grade pizzas served by Rizzo the Rat, the breakout star of Muppets Take Manhattan, the 39th highest-grossing movie of 1984.

PizzeRizzo Logo

The most famous face in show business.

Disney is playing it close to the vest with details about this pizza/rat combination. But if history is any indication, we can expect a healthy slice of cheesy gags. This represents a major turnaround for a company that used to dominate the lucrative cheese pun market with octogenarian star Mickey Mouse, but which recently was forced to cheddar the doors of its Comedy R&D division for its failure to turn out gouda jokes (an act which shareholders found particularly grating).

The move to add PizzeRizzo acts as a clear rebuttal to criticism from fringe website parkeology.com, which has lambasted the company for its failure to produce any sort of synergistic food tie-ins with its Intellectual Property (IP) — unlike competitor Universal, which has brought Harry Potter ButterBeer and Simpsons food-related cross-overs to the park.

Someday the Disney/Pixar machine will get their act together and create a film with a highly themed pizza-based restaurant universe that can be lifted straight from the movies and plopped into a theme park. But until that day comes, a fast food diner based on a fringe Muppet is an ingenious solution.

Pizza Planet Claw

Like this, but with pizza.

Or, as another industry expert put it, the idea of a rat running some kind of fancy restaurant is rife with comic possibilities. And if the Studios can’t come up with quality stories built around this idea, it will be up to the theme parks to do it.

Ratatouille Gusteau's Restaurant

Like this, but with rats.

Elsewhere on property, the Muppets are again being called upon to lend authenticity to an otherwise low-rent district of the Magic Kingdom. Liberty Square, one of the park’s original lands, has long been recognized as the most creatively challenged and minimally themed areas of Disney’s most popular park. Fans derisively refer to it as “the Dinorama of the Magic Kingdom.”

Hoping to inject a bit of 21st-century relevance to an area whose biggest attractions are a House and a Hall full of long-since-dead people, Disney has tapped the modern cultural phenomenon that is the Muppets, who will present “Great Moments in American History” from a dedicated area in the heart of Liberty Square — finally solving a problem that has baffled the Disney Imagineers for decades in how to realistically re-create Colonial America.

Muppets Present Great Moments in American History

Painstakingly recreated down to the very last detail.

The move has been heralded as a brilliant coup by Hollywood insiders, where the Muppets are viewed as one of the hottest entertainment commodities around. Their most recent chart-topping movie shot to #69 of the all-time box office champions of 2014, and a recent TV offering garnered a monster 1.9 Nielson rating and an unprecedented string of 1 seasons before succumbing to parent company ABC’s random cancellation process.

As an IP that has produced 8 movies in the last four decades — more than double the number of Marvel movies released since last year — it’s clear that Disney places lots of value in this acquisition and that audiences are hungry for even more. Schoolchildren bored by the dated offerings of Liberty Square are sure to welcome this immersive, historically accurate diversion of ironic humor sung by green felt frogs and blonde wig pigs.

Disney is no stranger to cutting-edge park shows about American History. A similar high-tech extravaganza ran in Disneyland for 14 years before a thrill ride based on a 40-year-old culturally insensitive movie robbed it of all the singing animals. Many longtime Disney fans agree that this process of building high-end immersive attractions at the expense of dated corny musicals was a dark time for the company.

The show debuted in 1974.

Like this, but with carefully sanitized racism.

Though many fans have fond memories of the show, no one wants to see the company return to the America Sings glory days of 1974. Which is why the Muppets, which hit the airwaves during Jimmy Carter’s first year, are considered such a breath of fresh air.

Now that Disney is finally focusing on disco-era puppet shows as a way of staying relevant in today’s fast-moving “Pokemon Go” culture, most pundits agree that the future could not be brighter. There are rumors that Disney may tap the Muppets yet again for an overlay to Florida’s aging Twilight Zone ride, since modern audiences simply don’t connect with TV shows from nearly half a century ago.


Comments (16)

  1. Pizza Planet was a total let down. I didn’t expect much from the food (which wasn’t terrible) but I did expect the visual theme to be spot on. Not only did it not resemble any aspect of the movie’s Pizza Planet, but the whole thing reminded me of a cheap mini golf/go cart track food court. It was a let down for sure. But a cold beer and a personal pan pizza sure did hit the spot at the time…

    • Pizza Planet was terrible The one bonafide restaurant concept that exists in a Disney movie, and they botched it. I’d even go so far as to say the awfulness of the food matched the theming. It always smelled great, but the quality was horrific. I would hope that Disney could match something like Dominos or Papa John’s in quality, but they couldn’t even do that.

  2. Hurrah! You’re back. I was happy to hear that Disney decided to “Re-Theme” Pizza Planet. But It’s looking like they are just going to swap out aliens for rats. We often joke as a family that quick service places at Disney have a great choice 1.Pizza with cheese 2. Pizza with pepperoni . *end of list*
    They should definitely be naming one “Rizzos balls”, Surely if Animal Kingdom can have poop cake?

    • Suzy, you are clearly a very high-maintenance person, with your non-pepperoni pizza options. Is there nothing that would satisfy you??

  3. I love the muppets.
    But this is still a great read. Laughed the whole way through (unlike the experience of watching the last Muppet movie).
    Hope we get another one soon! (A Parkeology post not another Muppet film).

    • Muppets Most Wanted was a definite step backwards. I really enjoyed the previous one, except for Kermit’s non-Kermit voice and Piggy’s non-Piggy voice. At this point the Muppets are what they are, which is past their prime. So much of it hinges on walking that delicate balance between sarcastic social commentary, and kid-friendly sweetness. I don’t think their latest caretakers have that figured out.

  4. Shane, taken from an earlier post I am sure that you were as shocked as I was that Ben Franklin did not try to make the jump from the American Adventure Pavilion over to Liberty Square. Perhaps he will be historical consultant for the Muppets and he will make a short cameo appearance. Though Disney certainly seems to be looking for credit for going multicultural by replacing old dead white guys with the diverse assortments of frogs, pigs, comedic bears, Gonzos, and blue eagles. The melting pot at its finest!

    • **Pictures Ben Franklin and Mark Twain filling in as Statler and Waldorf**

      **Spits coffee**

      • Given how pompous and full of himself Franklin is, it sounds like a role he’d fit right into.

    • It’s a bold new America now, and we do not want to exclude the valuable contributions that frogs and bears have made to our nation’s history!

  5. My kids love the Muppets, especially my 7-yr-old son. Of course, he also thinks the newer movies are better than the original, so what does he know, right? Seriously, think about all the major stars the original had: Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, James Coburn, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, Madeline Khan and Paul Williams. I mean, come on! Paul freakin’ Williams!

    • I love the Muppets as well, but I think we’re in the minority. I think the average guest going to WDW doesn’t give two flips about Kermit and the gang. But I do agree that older Muppets are much better than newer Muppets. Newer Muppets just don’t bring the funny like the old school did.

  6. As a huge muppet fan, I for one am extremely excited for this! I am glad to for them to use a ip that I can let my 5 year old watch, while still being entertained myself by the jokes! Maybe the muppets aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they are someone’s!

    • Right there with you, Steve. I’m actually a big Muppet fan as well and will have no problem enjoying the new offerings. But it doesn’t take much to recognize that the Muppets are well past their prime and despite Disney’s best efforts, they are not going to catch on with today’s audience. So fans like us might love them, but not sure it’s the wisest move for them to keep trying to make them relevant.

  7. Perfect example of why I always smile when a Parkeology post shows up in my RSS feed.

    • Always glad to hear people are still out there when we take a long break like that! Hopefully will post more frequently.

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