When Matt Danner and a team at Disney Interactive created a two minute CG short of the “Muppet Babies,” they introduced the once 2D characters from the original 80s animated series to a new 3D world.
The short caught the eyes of a team over at Disney Jr., to which they realized Danner, who now serves as the co-executive producer and voice of Kermit the Frog, and his team had found the perfect ingredient for bringing back the once adored “Muppet Babies” show.
“We had this mission to bring these characters back into the world,” said Tom Warburton, the show’s executive producer. “What’s great about these characters is there’s something magnetic about. Kids didn’t know who they were, but when we showed them pictures, their eyes just lit up.”
Premiering its second season on Aug. 9, “Muppet Babies” is one of Disney Jr.’s top rated animated series.
Danner and Warburton said the most important thing about the show is what it can offer children. While the entire team needs to work meticulously to make sure that episodes look good, they also need to ensure that each one has a lesson for their audience.
“For preschoolers is a bit harder to tell stories because you’ve got to be a little more on the nose with it,” Warburton said. “We find a way to give messages without hammering it really hard. We try to say, ‘here is this fun, cute story that has a great heart to it.’”
The messages the show tries to convey aren’t academic but rather social situations, said Danner. Instead of focusing on the ABC’s and numbers, they try to teach children about things like inclusion and goodbyes.
“That’s the core of the muppets anyway,” Danner said. “There is a moral center to the muppets as a group.”
While “Muppet Babies” is targeted toward preschoolers, Warburton said they don’t want the show to only be for children.
“It’s a family show,” Warburton said. “The goal in making a show is that you don’t want to make it so it’s for one group. ”
He added that he doesn’t want the show to be treated as something to distract the child while parents do chores, but instead as something parents want to sit down and watch with their child.
“We try to make it so that the episodes have these great little messages for kids, but adults can see it too,” Warburton said.
In the episode “You Say Potato, I Say Best Friend,” Gonzo befriends a potato, the other muppets need to learn how to include his new friend even if it doesn’t look like them and can’t do the same things as them.
“The older people will catch on to the message but the children just think it’s silly thing about a potato,” Warburton said.
While the concept is very straightforward, Warburton said the underlying message is acceptance and inclusion. When they presented the story to a group of kids, he said many of them said they would be friends with a potato, some even adding other vegetables into their friend group.
Even with these simple ideas, the efforts to present them are far beyond elementary concepts.
One episode of “Muppet Babies” takes about 10 months to make, so the cast and crew have no time to rest as they continue to create episodes.
The team of five writers starts with story premise, which has to go through a cycle of edits from several people, such as the Network Executive Cassie Brower, the education department and the standards and practices department. They use these notes to break down the story to create a script.
The design team breaks apart what the writers have come up with to pull different patterns and textures in order to create a look for each character and object on the show. Each thing needs careful attention in order to make sure its lifelike and true to character.
Storyboard artists then steps in to break apart the script and sketch out a rough idea of what the episode will look like. They go frame by frame to make sure that the story flows together.
The episode is then sent to animation, and then finally, sent to have musical arrangements.
While the show is a reboot of the beloved ’80s series, this team uses their own interpretation and creativity to make the Muppet Babies their own.
“We know these characters so well, so sometimes it’s about challenging them in a new way with stories, maybe taking them to places they’ve never gone or maybe learning new things about them,” said Danner.
While Warburton said the original show is about imagination and friendship, the team has been able to use modern ideas and techniques, such as different animation styles, to push those ideas further.