It’s difficult to quantify just how incredible the career of Frank Oz has been. On the one hand, he’s a hugely successful film director: The Dark Crystal, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, etc. For some that would be enough. But he also acts. And while some successful film directors act, Oz is also one of the most famous puppeteers of all time, having worked with George Lucas on Star Wars and Jim Henson on The Muppets and Sesame Street from their earliest incarnations. Oz has the type of experience and talent you’d imagine anyone would bend over backward to work with. But apparently, not everyone wants to work with him.
In a fascinating, wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, Oz admits that while he hasn’t worked with The Muppets since 2007, it hasn’t exactly been by choice. “I’d love to do the Muppets again but Disney doesn’t want me, and Sesame Street hasn’t asked me for 10 years,” Oz said. “They don’t want me because I won’t follow orders and I won’t do the kind of Muppets they believe in.”
Oz worked directly with Jim Henson, who passed away in 1990, on both properties, and thinks negotiations to sell the Muppets to Disney played a role in his passing. “The Disney deal is probably what killed Jim. It made him sick,” Oz said. “[Then Disney CEO Michael] Eisner was trying to get Sesame Street, too, which Jim wouldn’t allow. But Jim was not a dealer, he was an artist, and it was destroying him, it really was.”
Though the deal didn’t happen at that time, Disney did end up purchasing the Muppets years after Henson’s passing. Quickly, Oz saw a shift from the more subversive, family friendly content he and Henson were doing versus what Disney was doing. “[There was a] demarcation line between the Jim Henson Muppets and the Disney Muppets,” Oz said. “There’s an inability for corporate America to understand the value of something they bought. 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.” (Interesting side note: Oz was not consulted on the character of Grogu from The Mandalorian).
Oz has worked with Disney in the past few years: he brought back Yoda for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, provided a voice for Pixar’s Inside Out, directed Hulu special Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, and more. But when it comes to The Muppets and Sesame Street, Oz can’t watch them anymore. “The soul’s not there. The soul is what makes things grow and be funny. But I miss them and love them,” he said.
Read much more from Oz in his Guardian profile.