Once Mickey Mouse bought Kermit the Frog, it had to happen. The Muppets had to visit Walt Disney World.
"The concept for the special was formulated soon after the Muppets and Disney joined forces last year," said Jerry Juhl, writer of The Muppets at Walt Disney World (Sunday at 6 p.m., Ch. 2).That concept eventually boiled down to this: Kermit convinces his pals to travel to Florida with him to visit his roots - Paradise Swamp. But the mud and mosquitoes don't exactly appeal to the other Muppets, so when they learn Disney World is just over the hill, they're off.
Upon arriving, an overenthusiastic Animal tears down a turnstile, and the Muppets are off in every direction, pursued by security guard Quentin Fitzwauler (Charles Grodin) and the Disney SWAT team - the Seven Dwarfs.
"We don't allow rodents in the park," Fitzwauler tells Rizzo Rat.
"Yeah? Does your boss, Mickey, know about this?" Rizzo replies.
There's plenty of good ol' Muppet adventure, half a dozen new songs, and even a few new Muppet characters - including the insufferably cute Bean Bunny.
"The rest of us got sick of being cute so we hired him to do it," said Scooter.
Most of the Muppets find a favorite spot at the theme parks - all except Statler and Waldorf, who can't find anything to complain about.
"Sometimes Goofy, Pluto and I like to go to the Comedy Warehouse and chase shticks," said Rowlf. "That's a dog joke."
Gonzo and his girlfriend, Camilla the chicken, were particularly taken with the laundry facilities.
"Do you know that they wash 7,000 undershirts every hour," Gonzo said. "Wow! I don't know why more people don't go there. It has the shortest lines."
The Divine Miss P. found the whole park "tres chic."
"And there is one truly enchanting attraction," said Miss Piggy. "On the backlot, you can stand in one spot while a tram rides by and people cheer and take your photo. It is not that different from moi's everyday life."
Miss P. was less enchanted with the rides, which left her wide-eyed and frazzled. And they gave the muppeteers some trouble as well.
"I was always on the floor -always padded up and strapped down," said Dave Goelz, the hands behind Gonzo.
"I went the day before . . . and rode it (the swirling teacups) as fast as I could to make sure I wouldn't get sick," said Steve Whitmire, who backs up Rizzo Rat and Bean Bunny. "When we shot, the very minute I got down inside of the thing, we did one rehearsal and I knew I was sick."
When the Muppets are filming in the studio, the sets are 5 feet off the floor so performers can stand up underneath. But on location, they were forced to spend most of the time on their knees or on their backs.
That was the downside. The upside was the feedback from the crowds that gathered during filming.
"We were doing a Doctor Teeth number around the whole EPCOT World Showcase and the involvement of the crowd - applauding and yelling and screaming - really energized us," said muppeteer Kevin Clash, who controls Clifford. "We were all really sore the next day . . . but we didn't notice it as we were doing it because the adrenalin was flowing."
Not that everything was perfect for the Muppets themselves during their trip.
"I like most of Walt Disney World - except for Cinderella's Castle," said Kermit. "Last week, some girl kissed me there and she was really disappointed when I didn't turn into a prince."
As for the Muppets, they're starting to feel right at home in the Disney family. Their production office was located in a bungalow at the Disney/MGM Studios, and was easily identifiable by several signs: "Please do not read this sign"; "Wanted: Chickens who can sing and move well - apply Gonzo's office"; "Monsters, please report to commissary in food chain order" and "Miss Piggy's wardrobe should be delivered in loading bays 4 through 7."
And one Muppet in particular is thrilled to have Mickey Mouse for a boss.
"I like it that their corporate symbol is a rodent," said Rizzo Rat. "It's nice to see your own species doing well."