Walt Disney World is a park that is constantly changing. It must change, in fact, because there is enormous pressure on a park that bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth” to continually reinvent itself.
As a result, many rides are replaced and reinvented. Few rides and attracts have been able to remain in tact for decades. Some examples of these classic, relatively untouched attractions are: the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Mad Tea Party ride, and the Haunted Mansion.
Some of my favorites have been lost to the sands of time—Body Wars, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and The Great Movie Ride just to name a few. But there is one attraction that has been able to endure for thirty years: Muppet Vision 3D. At this point, this classic attraction is an elder statesman that has historical value in addition to entertainment value.
Here, in this Muppet Vision 3D review, we’ll take look at this classic attraction and see whether it still works as a modern attraction.
Muppet Vision 3D History
Muppet Vision is a classic Disney World attraction that has seen the park change considerably around it. Since opening on May 16, 1991, much of the immediate theme park it resides in has changed considerably. It is now one of the precious few holdovers (The Indiana Jones Stunt Show being another) that was actually conceived when the park was still called Disney-MGM Studios.
Not to say this attraction hasn’t changed at all. There have been a few updates here and there, mostly in line with the movie reboot in 2011. The marquee outside changed and many new characters have been added into the pre-show area. The movie is now in 4K, as well.
The attraction had originally been intended to be the center of more Muppet-based attractions at Hollywood Studios. The plans came together during Disney’s original plan to acquire the Muppets during the late eighties but fell through with Henson’s death in 1990.
Part of the attraction’s enduring quality is its direct connection to Jim Henson. It is the last Muppet feature to be directed by Henson and the last time Kermit would be voiced by him. Henson passed away before its completion and it opened on the one-year anniversary of his death.
After his death, the attraction was carried through by Henson’s longtime right-hand-man, Frank Oz. According to legend, Oz refused the sum of money offered to him by Disney to finish the attraction. His compensation? Disney paid Oz the steep, steep price of a pair of Mickey Mouse socks.
Because of this attraction’s intimate connection with the artist that made the Muppets, I think it is a great loss that Disney decided to remove Henson’s name from the marquee after their acquisition of The Jim Henson Company (now Muppets Studio). Henson, no less than Disney himself, is one of the great geniuses of American popular culture and deserves to be remembered.
The removal of Henson’s name obscures one of the greatest aspects of the Muppets: that it was the labor of love of a visionary. But, to Disney’s credit, they have maintained the ride itself and now, some thirty years later, it is as good as ever. Now it stands as a testament to Henson’s work.
If you want to experience one of Jim Henson’s final works, you have to go to Walt Disney World in Florida to see it. Disney California Adventure had a version of the attraction that ran from 2001 to 2014 but is now defunct. The original still stands, however, and remains a fun attraction three decades later.
What Does Muppet Vision 3D Offer Guests?
Muppet Vision 3D is a sit-down, 3D shows of the mold of many of the attractions from that era. It involves a 3D with which you must wear glasses, sometimes referred to as “safety glasses” to give them an in-story logic and foreshadow how chaotic the show will be.
The is basically divided into two parts: the preshow and the show proper. The preshow happens in a prepping room while the theatre is prepared for guests to enter. Once the audience enters the theatre and is seated, they are instructed to put on their glasses and the real show begins.
The show captures the mood of the 1970s Muppet Show. You sit in a recreation of the theater from the show with an animatronic Statler and Waldorf in the balcony, heckling the Muppets on the screen. The characters attempt to put on a variety show but become undone by a character called Waldo.
Children may not be familiar with the Muppet Show, but it isn’t as if the show is steeped in indecipherable lore. The real hurdle might be the Muppets’ particular brand of humor, which may not be for everyone.
Preparing for Muppet Vision 3D
One of the benefits of this attraction is that it doesn’t require a lot of waiting. The average wait time is about twenty minutes, so you might plan this as a break from some of the other attractions. This is especially since you will be inside and seated for most of the time. So, save Genie+ for something else and see Muppet Vision as a potential oasis from the Orlando heat.
The show warns visitors to prepare for surprises during the show. There are no age or height restrictions. The theatre within the attraction provides accommodations for wheelchairs, audio description, video captioning, assistive listening, and language translation.
Muppet Vision 3D Queue and Exterior
The exterior of the attraction is a brick building named the Grand Arts Theatre, located on Grand Avenue in Hollywood Studios. Disney parks at their best provide a fully immersive experience nowhere else can quite achieve, and Muppet Vision is Disney at its best. Grand Avenue is based on modern Los Angeles, so arriving at the theatre gives the impression of a theatre that exists in the real world.
There was once a fountain outside featuring many statues of the Muppets, the most prominent of which is Miss Piggy adorned as the Statue of Liberty. In its latest incarnation, only Piggy remained. This fountain disappeared for a brief time recently, but it seems to have returned. It had already disappeared once in 2017, was briefly replaced by a planter, and ultimately returned.
The queue takes you through Honeydew and Beaker’s lab and there are a number of prominent, Muppets-related props visible along the way. We’ll do a deep dive into some of the more hard-to-notice details a little bit below but be sure to look at the doors for some fun job descriptions.
There are a lot of fun faux-movie posters both outside the theatre and along the queue on the inside. The ones on the outside advertise the show itself. As for those within the queue, look for a lot of plays on familiar movies such as Piggy Woman and Raging Bullfrog starring Ribbet Da Niro. Some of the original posters have since been replaced by actual Disney movie posters.
As you exit, there is a gift shop selling Muppet merchandise. Check out a variety of licensed shirts, bags, and plush Muppets on your way out. As with all the stores, new merchandise comes and goes.
Muppet Vision 3D Characters
Most of the classic characters are involved. Obviously, no Muppet show could be complete without Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo. Zoot and Janice represent the Electric Mayhem. Beaker, Dr. Honeydew, Scooter, and Sam Eagle also play prominent roles. Other favorites include Rizzo the Rat and the Swedish Chef.
Gonzo’s appears in the pre-show as well, where he is joined by Camilla the chicken. Many of the others, such as Rizzo and Sam the Eagle, appear there as well. New characters the Three Ds, a musical trio promoted by Fozzie, appear here as well.
The show involves some characters off the screen as well. Audioanimatronic Statler and Waldorf commentary from their perch up on the right side of the theatre. Bean Bunny pops up on the balcony, as well. In the orchestra pit, you can see Nicky Napoleon and His Emperor Penguins perform the music. The Swedish Chef pops out to add to the chaos as only he can do.
Bean Bunny’s appearance here is an interesting one. He plays a significant part, but he in some manner dates the show to a particular time. I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing, but it is notable. The character is divisive, at least by Muppet standards, and he has fallen out of favor with audiences over the years.
He’s hardly an offensive character; quite the opposite, as he’s one of the most kid-friendly of the bunch. That was his downfall, ultimately, as he was too much of a traditional kids’ puppet to fit in with the rest of the cast. His life as a regular cast member of the Muppets began and ended very close to the creation of this attraction, so his presence here is ties the show concretely to the Muppets of the late eighties.
Another character aspect that ties this attraction to one specific era of the Muppets is Kermit. This is Jim Henson’s final performance as Kermit, so in that sense the attraction is a piece of the lore in a way that most media-based attractions are not for the respective franchise of origin. Kermit has had a couple or so voice actors since Henson’s death with varying degrees of success, but it is great to have Henson’s iteration of the character immortalized in such a way.
At some point, a cast member enters the theatre in a Sweetums costume searching for Bean. It’s a highlight of the show since it adds to the overall immersive feeling of the show. The actors who portray Sweetums have been trained by the Jim Henson Company to maintain the feeling of authenticity.
One of the more unfamiliar characters in the show is Waldo C. Graphic. He is not original to the show but actually comes from The Jim Henson Hour. Waldo is a computer-generated Muppet and is responsible for much of the chaos within the show. In truth, Waldo is borderline irritating and is probably the weakest part of the show, but his obnoxiousness works to the show’s advantage in its own way. You will definitely be happy to see him vanquished at the end.
Muppet Vision 3D Pre-Show
As with many of Disney’s attractions, there is a bit of waiting room to give you a head’s up as to what to expect. The preshow lasts around six to seven minutes and is enjoyable in its own right.
The preshow takes place in what appears to be a kind of staging area. There are several Muppet-related paraphernalia sitting about. The spaceship Swinetrek from the recurring Pigs in Space sketch hangs from the ceiling. We see Gonzo’s plane prominently up front. There’s a bunch of crates and barrels: Great Gonzo stunt props, banana puree, Great Gonzo weird stuff, and Great Gonzo really weird stuff. The characters appear on televisions in the waiting area.
The preshow stresses the danger of the show and its unpredictability and particularly how the Muppets need to rush to make sure preparations are made.
The organizational incompetence of the Muppets has always been a major plot point in all its iterations, particularly The Muppet Show. The poor, put-upon Kermit must contain the always-threatening madness of his cohorts. Such it is here, and even in the preshow, they capture the chaos of the Muppets up until the very end, where the Muppets stampede over poor Sam on their way to the theatre.
After the culmination of the preshow, the doors open, and the voices instruct you on how to enter the theatre. Essentially, when the doors open, you will come in on the left side of the theatre, lining up on one of the theatre’s rows. Of note, the top row of the theatre is reserved for those in wheelchairs and their parties.
Muppet Vision 3D Show
The doors lead you into a theatre that is a perfect replica of the theatre from The Muppet Show. The show doesn’t leave you hanging for too long. As you settle in, the audio animatronic Statler and Waldorf riff on the audience. Then, the penguin orchestra begins to play the classic Muppet theme and the show begins.
The gist of the plot goes something like this: Kermit invites the audience to check out the research center, where the Muppets have perfected Muppet Vision 3D. After some brief interruptions from other characters, he leads us to the laboratory of Honeydew and Beaker. At the lab, Honeydew flips a few switches and Waldo emerges, claiming to be “the Spirit of 3D.” Hijinks ensue.
The humor of the Muppets is slapstick and absurd. Light, cartoonish, and inconsequential violence serves as the primary source for laughs. Characters get caught in machinery. Cannons are fired. There is a banana cream pie in the face gag.
The show tries to make the most of the 3D, occasionally bringing attention to itself when it does so. One character makes a point to highlight 3D film’s ability to make it look like a character is in front of your face and addressing you. The show gets quite a bit of mileage out of forced perspective.
The show attempts a fully immersive experience. At one point, the audience is sprinkled with water. Fans recreate the suction of a vacuum. There is fog. At one point, Sweetums enters the theatre. For the most part, the show avoids any cheap tricks and sticks to what would add to the experience.
Bean acts as the narrative heart of the show. His feeling of alienation from the rest of the Muppets and eventual reconciliation that provides the emotional core of the show. This subplot lasts only for a few minutes, so it doesn’t exactly make the show into a bummer. This is just a theme park attraction, though it is nice to see a character have any sort of arc.
The biggest concerns for parents would be the noise, especially at the end. Kids may get startled, but this is hardly scary. Children should be prepared for the surprises and the sound, but it shouldn’t drive anyone away.
For the generation between children and nostalgic adult, this show might be a little shaky. The humor may be lost on teens and young adults, and too much time has passed since the heights of Muppet fame for many to have a strong emotional attachment to.
Overall, I would say the show is a classic. The main drawback to the show is the character of Waldo, who is simply irritating. Some might argue that this show should be updated, but I think too much tinkering could be a huge mistake.
There are few things that have truly endured at Disney World, and they should be preserved. Whether you will enjoy the humor depends greatly on whether you enjoy the Muppets, but there is absolutely nothing that is for everyone. The real problem is that every year, we move farther and farther from the Muppets’ heyday. Now that The Muppet Show is on Disney+, hopefully younger children can be exposed to them.
Muppet Vision 3D Key Under the Mat
Although this review has touched on some of the more obvious easter eggs about the attraction, it’s worth setting aside some space to explore them more fully.
As you enter the building you will pass a ticket office. Within that office you will see a sign that reads “Back in Five Minutes, Key is Under Mat.” If you look around the desk, you can find the rubber mat and the curious may lift the mat and find the key.
As you enter the building, you see an enclosed letter board listing the Muppet Vision directory. You’ll find several interesting department names there. Among those listed: the department of comedic timing and delivery, attitudinal adjustment and groove testing, and the division of decibel development. Also, you’ll see a couple soups of the day listed, notably “alphabet soup.”
Many rides within park have Hidden Mickeys that you can find, and there’s one in Muppet Vision as well. As you watch the video in the preshow, pay special attention to the test patterns at the beginning. In the grid right before the color pattern shows up, you can see the shape of Mickey’s head. There used to be one in the fountain at the front, but that statue has been removed.
This next one might need a little bit of explaining. In the preshow area, you will see a net full of Jell-O. It is a visual pun: “a net full of Jell-O” sounds a lot like Annette Funnicello and Annette Funnicello happens to be one of the original Mickey Mouse Club members.
Muppet Vision 3D Summary
As has probably become obvious, this attraction has endeared itself to me by its constant presence as well as my affection for the Muppets in most of their iterations. Doing my best to evaluate it objectively, there are some issues. The only one that comes close to being a real problem is the character of Waldo.
If this were an episode of The Muppet Show, I would say to myself “I never want to see that character ever again.” Now, he has forever become part of Muppet history. For me, my annoyance at Waldo is overshadowed by the ability to watch the Muppets in their purest form and to feel immersed in their world. In a way, his obnoxiousness works to the character’s advantage.
The other issue that some vacationers may run into is the idiosyncratic nature of the Muppets themselves. Their humor is a very specific brand. I can sympathize with people with people who don’t like the Muppets. Everyone has some piece of media that they cannot wrap their mind around its popularity. Still, to those people, all I can say is to know whether it is for you. For my money, I would rather see the Muppets preserved in their glory for audiences to either accept or reject than to see such a vivacious property diluted for broad consumption.
All in all, there is a reason why the Muppets endure. Their energy is one-of-kind, chaotic, and unpredictable. The show is itself a piece of the history in a way that should be preserved. I would hope that, instead of replacing it, Disney would build other, newer Muppet attractions alongside it. Compared to all the other Disney studios, the Muppets are severely underrepresented at Disney World (the exception is Marvel, but that’s complicated).
Muppet Vision 3D is a piece of Disney history that is fun and not an enormous time investment. Disney guests should take a break from the sun to dip into to the theatre for a spell to admire this classic attraction.
5 out of 5 stars.
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