The firing of Kermit the Frog’s voice actor and puppeteer Steve Whitmire is getting ugly.
Disney let go of the veteran Muppet performer in October of last year. Whitmire stayed silent about the matter until last week, hoping that Disney would reconsider its position.
Early last week, Whitmire posted a blog and gave multiple interviews about the situation. The actor claims that he has done everything possible to reach out to Disney and resolve their past disputes.
“This is my life’s work,” Whitmire told the New York Times. “The only thing I’ve done my whole adult life, and it’s just been taken away from me. I just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t resolve this.”
Whitmire has voiced Kermit the Frog for 26 years.
Whitmire’s long history of providing Kermit’s voice means that younger viewers have never known another Kermit; older fans will never forget that Muppets creator Jim Henson was the original voice of Kermit.
Henson voiced Kermit for 35 years and made the character his most well-known creation. When Henson died suddenly in 1990, Whitmire stepped in to take over vocal duties for the beloved character. Though disputes between Whitmire and Disney were never public knowledge, they still took their toll.
Disney says they had grown tired of Whitmire’s “repeated unacceptable business conduct.”
Disney has not been specific about their qualms, but Whitmire claims that they gave two reasons for letting him go. Execs did not like the way that Whitmire gave notes to show creators and thought he was overly difficult in contract negotiations.
Jim Henson’s children were less restrained than Disney. Lisa Henson, president of Jim Henson Company, said, “He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations.”
She also complained that Whitmire refused to have an understudy, while also refusing to appear at “B-level performances, such as ribbon cuttings.”
Brian Henson revealed the depth of the conflict when he commented on the recasting.
He told the Hollywood Reporter, “I have to say, in hindsight, I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point because I knew that it was going to be a real problem.”
While admitting that Whitmire’s Kermit was “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good,” Henson’s son also had some criticism for his dad’s successor. He said, “Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been.”
Disney and the Henson family hope that Muppet veteran Matt Vogel will reinvigorate Kermit.
Brian Henson believes that recasting Vogel as Kermit is a move his dad would have supported. He explained, “My dad’s No. 1 thing was don’t repeat yourself. Innovate. Do something new. He is the guy who canceled The Muppets Show when it was the No. 1 show in the world after five seasons because he was worried he was going to start repeating himself.”
Vogel has worked with the Muppets since 1987 and has voiced Count von Count, Big Bird, and Robin the Frog, who is Kermit’s nephew. Vogel will make his debut appearance as Kermit on YouTube later this month.