Frank Oz, the legendary co-creator of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street characters, has not worked on either show since 2007, nearly 14 years ago. “I’d love to do The Muppets again but Disney doesn’t want me, and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me,” the 77-year-old told The Guardian. “They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in.”
“The soul’s not there” anymore, he admitted. “The soul is what makes things grow and be funny. But I miss them and love them.”
Along with The Muppets creator Jim Henson, who passed away in 1990 due to a rare toxic shock syndrome, Frank Oz famously voiced characters such as Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Grover, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Bert, and even Yoda from Star Wars.
According to Oz, he was the one who came up with Yoda’s convoluted way of speaking, which George Lucas said: “just felt so right.”
The Muppets show was originally a satire of late-night variety shows, with Frank Oz explaining that if “we were told that Bob Hope didn’t have much time to do the show, so the whole show was about Bob Hope not having much time.” If John Landis didn’t want to sing on the show, the episode would be about all the Muppets trying to get him to sing.
The Muppets are very different now from what they were during Frank Oz and Jim Henson’s time, however, and Oz attributes the shift to Disney’s buyout of The Muppets in 2004. The purchase came after the company spent years and years trying. After the buyout, Oz said there was a visual difference “between the Jim Henson Muppets and the Disney Muppets.”
“There’s an inability for corporate America to understand the value of something they bought,” he explained. “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.”
“Eisner was trying to get Sesame Street, too, which Jim wouldn’t allow,” he recalled, “but Jim was not a dealer, he was an artist, and it was destroying him, it really was. The Disney deal is probably what killed Jim. It made him sick.”
Sesame Street was eventually acquired by HBO in 2015. Disney has made many Muppets movies and television shows since the purchase. There was a revival film with Jason Segal titled The Muppets in 2011, a crime comedy called Muppets Most Wanted in 2014, and television shows such as the animated Muppet Babies and Muppets Now digital Disney+ variety show. Frank Oz was not asked to contribute to any of them.
“There is always a pejorative attitude towards puppeteering and I became identified with being a puppeteer, but I wanted to be a full human being,” Frank Oz said, alluding that his relationship as Jim Henson’s friend and creative partner later helped him overcome his insecurity.
He convinced Frank Oz to explore Hollywood creatively outside of puppetry. Oz went on to direct the Little Shop of Horrors remake with Steve Martin, as well as other films such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob? with Bill Murray, and Bowfinger with Eddie Murphy. Frank Oz also made many live cameos in his career, appearing in The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, and most recently, Knives Out.
When Frank Oz spoke of Jim Henson, it was like they had convinced themselves that they were actually brothers. In The Guardian feature, he said that he has lived in New York since he was 19, “ever since Jim asked me to come here to work with him on The Muppets.” He has often described himself as the real Fozzie Bear to Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog.
“People don’t understand, anyone can do a voice,” he said. “It’s not the voice – it’s the soul.”