Disney adds disclaimer to Muppet episodes
The 1970s variety sketch comedy makes a rough landing on streaming TV
Fans of Kermit the Frog and his friends rejoiced when Disney+ added all five seasons of The Muppet Show to the streaming platform on Friday. But one change to the variety show, which ran on prime-time TV from 1976-1981, had viewers scratching their heads: Eighteen of the more than 100 episodes opened with a trigger warning.
The on-screen message resembles those Disney added before some of its older movies like Dumbo and Peter Pan. Those films employed exploitative caricatures of African and Native Americans, which were common in the midcentury decades in which they were produced. “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” the warning reads. “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”
In one flagged episode of The Muppet Show, comedian Jonathan Winters dons a feathered headdress and does a mock Native American chant, while in another, Muppets in Middle Eastern clothing drill for oil in singer Kenny Rodgers’ dressing room. Johnny Cash sings a song in front of a Confederate flag in one episode that drew a warning.
Some fans and fellow entertainers have scoffed at Disney for spoiling the fun for the Muppets, who have embodied kindness and inclusivity since their inception.
“At the time it aired, The Muppet Show (like its parent Sesame Street) was noted for making an effort to nudge young viewers away from thinking only in terms of white Americans, taking pains to include a wide variety of ethnic types in the zany fun,” wrote National Review critic Kyle Smith. He bemoaned the trigger warnings as attacks on “a nonproblem with a meaningless blob of sensitivity signaling.”
Others, accustomed to the knee-jerk reactions of contemporary cancel culture, looked on the bright side: At least Disney didn’t pull the shows altogether. One note: Some scenes and episodes did not make it to the final Disney+ cut, but that’s likely because of issues securing rights to songs performed on the show. There’s also speculation, reported in Entertainment Weekly, that one episode featuring actor and writer Chris Langham was cut because he was later convicted on child pornography charges.
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