?In the years following the death of Jim Henson, it seemed unthinkable that the Muppets could once again be culturally relevant. That they now are is something to be celebrated for sure, but one nagging question haunts fans of The Muppets: where is all the merchandise for the flick? Obviously there’s a smattering of stuff at Disney stores and some tie-in books and other products, but there’s not the deluge of Muppet merch that corresponded with the characters’ previous big-screen outings. The upside to this is that Muppet collectors have more cash to track down older items they haven’t procured yet.
That’s no small task, though. Over the years, there have been thousands of Muppet toys, albums, books, homewares, and other items released (and that’s not including the sheer volume of Sesame Street paraphernalia). In the vintage documentary Henson’s Place, viewers are given a glimpse of New York City’s now-closed Muppet Store. The shots of shelf after shelf packed with goods featuring Kermit and the gang are nothing short of retail porn for Muppet enthusiasts. The problem with the golden age of Muppet licensing is that it resulted in so many great items that it was hard to judge which were the best. That’s where today’s Daily List comes in. Here’s one fanatic’s pick of the greatest Muppety products ever made.
14) The Great Muppet Caper Board Game
?Undeniable fact: The world needs more merchandise based on The Great Muppet Caper. And while it’s true that this cumbersome cardboard monster of a game that recreated a few of the film’s key scenes took longer to put together than actually play, it still gave kids the opportunity to play catch with the Baseball Diamond. That my friends is the type of fun that kids just don’t get to have anymore.
13) The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem, and More!
?Originally released in 2002 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of The Muppet Show‘s debut, this CD presents an overview of memorable Muppet musical moments. Featuring a mix of classics like “Mahna Mahna,” “The Rainbow Connection” and “Movin’ Right Along” as well as underrated songs (such as “Love Led Us Here” from Muppet Treasure Island), the release is 27 tracks of pure nostalgia that deserves a place in the music library of every Jim Henson fan. Doo doo doo doo doo. Manha Mahna!
12) The Art of the Muppets
?In the summer of 1979, “The Art of the Muppets” became the first touring retrospective of the work of Jim Henson. In conjunction with the tour, this book by Bantam Books’ Muppet Press imprint was released. It was written by the staff of Henson Associates, and its pages chronicle Jim Henson’s ascension from aspiring puppeteer to entertainment visionary. While the behind-the-scenes pictures that are the book’s centerpiece threaten to demystify some of the Muppet magic, they also shed light onto the meticulous craft that went into getting Kermit and company on screen. What makes this book extra special is the sections it devotes to Henson’s early Sam and Friends TV work (a sort of primordial Muppet Show) and Henson’s weird “Land of Gorch” segments from the first season of Saturday Night Live. Equally noteworthy — though way more expensive to track down these days — are Steven Crist’s The Muppet Movie book and Christopher Finch’s essential Of Muppets and Men.
11) Crayola Clay Time Muppets Playset
?An occupational hazard with writing lists like this one is that during the research process I often stumble upon products that I never knew existed before yet no longer can live without. Enter Crayola’s Clay Time Muppets playset from 1982. This moldable wonder came with plastic Muppet heads, arms and legs that you could use to create clay replicas of Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie. You can correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, but I’m guessing that it was pretty difficult actually sculpting the clay into anything even remotely resembling the intended characters. Still, a green shaped blob with Kermit’s eyes is a pretty cool plaything anyway…even if it is a little bit terrifying.
10) Cr?onchy Stars
Breakfast has never been the same since Post’s Cr?onchy Stars left store shelves in 1992. Much like Hi-C’s lamented Real Ghostbusters Ecto Cooler, the Cr?onchy Stars still have a devoted following. Not so much for the cereal mind you, which was a variation on the familiar Cinnamon Toast Crunch formula, but rather for the fun packaging and absolutely inspired marketing (seriously, has there ever been a more entertaining cereal commercial than the one you see here?) It’s worth noting that the cereal itself spawned a collectible of its own, namely a mail-away Swedish Chef doll that can currently be found haunting my soul/bank account on eBay.
9) Ol’ Brown Ears Is Back
Recorded long before Jim Henson’s death but not released until 1993, the album Ol’ Brown Ears Is Back features everybody’s favorite puppet dog taking on a variety of standards. The undisputed highlight of this novelty music gem is Rowlf’s pensive cover of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” I defy you to not make this a regular presence on your playlists after hearing it. This is the only Muppet take on a Joel classic ever recorded, which is a damn shame because “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as performed by The Electric Mayhem would be fucking unreal.
8) Great Muppet Caper Glasses
Preferably ones filled with booze for your parents to gulp down after they spent the better part of a weekend assembling the aforementioned Great Muppet Caper board game. In 1981 everyone had these. Chances are, you still do. Well done. So jump to 3:18 in the above clip and travel back in time to a more carefree time packed with awesome fast food tie-ins and a complete disregard for lead-based paint fears.
7) Fisher-Price Hand Puppets
?The late-1970s and early-1980s were the golden age of Muppet toys, and this is primarily because of the sheer volume of superb products that Fisher-Price was releasing during the time. While their Little People line was bringing Sesame Street products into children’s homes, the company also began selling dolls, puppets and rudimentary action figures that used a plastic stick/handle thingy. These were all worthwhile items, and to be honest a Daily List could be written based entirely on Fisher-Price Muppet merch alone. Your mileage may vary as to what your personal favorite of all of these is, but I have always had a soft spot for the Fisher-Price puppets which included Kermit (velcro hands, sigh), Rowlf, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and Animal. So much of Jim Henson’s life was spent exploring the magic of puppetry. By doing so he inspired countless others. These afforded kids the opportunity to hone and develop their own puppetry skills and that’s a pretty rare thing for a toy to accomplish.
6) The Muppet Sound Drum Set
?This drum set released by Massachusetts-based musical instrument manufacturer Noble & Cooley let kids in 1978 release their inner Animal, much to the chagrin of parents everywhere. It was part of the company’s The Muppet Sound line of instruments that were released with the hopes of encouraging young Muppet fans to develop a love of music. Instead, most of these kids just banged on the drums while shouting “ANIMAL! ANIMAL! ANIMAL!” until their mom or dad had enough and threw the things into the street. Better that than have your younger sister turn into a Janice-styled burnout I suppose.
5) Muppet Colorforms
?They stick like magic! Pure Muppet magic!
4) Muppet Whatnot
Are you a man or a Muppet? If the latter is true, it’s time for you to pay a visit to FAO Schwarz’s Muppet Whatnot Workshop. Available online and at the flagship store in New York City, the Workshop lets you customize the Muppet of your dreams for your own personal enjoyment… or for impromptu productions of Avenue Q. There are hundreds of options to choose from, and at a price point of nearly $100 it is more than an affordable gift idea for the Muppet freak in your life. The only problem is that these are so easy to make and purchase that I fully expect to see a Hoarders episode about some poor soul whose home is overrun by these things.
3) The Muppet Show Shrinky Dinks
?The toy that taught kids about the wonders of oven burns reached its apex with the arrival of this Muppet Show-themed set. It came with a whopping 36 Muppets (including many obscure creatures) that could be colored in, shrunk and then used with an included replica of the Muppet Theater. Being a complete bastard, I bring this toy marvel to your attention with the full realization that you will never own one. But relax, because I won’t either. Just like the Marvel World playset before it, the huge number of pieces that came included with this makes finding a complete one at a cost that won’t drain your bank account a Herculean task. In the cuttthroat world of toy collecting misery truly does love company.
2) Photo Puppet Replicas
To some Muppet fans the untimely death of Master Replicas — the company that was releasing poseable full body replicas of various characters based on the specs of Muppets used in photo shoots — is nearly as upsetting as Jim Henson’s demise. As you can see in the video above, their detailed recreations of Kermit, Animal and Gonzo were jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, they were costly to produce and sold for hundreds of dollars each (even more so now on the secondary market), making them a niche collectible for only those with disposable income/a serious felt fetish. Speaking of companies that died too soon…
1) Palisades Toys Muppets Action Figures
Long before Jason Segel’s script for The Muppets began development, a renaissance for the characters was already well underway in the form of Palisades Toys’ line of Muppets figures and their corresponding playsets. For four years the company released everyone from Kermit to Sweetums, Uncle Deadly to the Swedish Chef. The love that was poured into the line was evident. Each of the figures came with character-specific accessories (e.g., Fozzie Bear was packaged with a rubber chicken) and the likenesses were all spot on. Tragically all of this inventiveness came to sudden end when Palisades announced their bankruptcy in 2006. Fans had to learn to accept that the promised Sesame Street spin-off line would never be, nor would the sought-after Muppet Theater playset. At least there’s solace that the figures we did get were uniformly excellent. Plus, there’s always the hope that some other company out there will pick up the Muppets license and continue the great work that Palisades started. I may not know why there are so many songs about rainbows, but I’m certain that there are few action figure lines that were this incredible.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.