Frogs and Pigs Can Talk, Penguins and Chickens Can’t

From a NYTimes piece on Bret McKenzie’s work writing songs for the new Muppet Movie:

It’s a sacred endeavor because, to a certain generation, of which McKen­zie is part (he is 35), the Muppets are a found­ational part of childhood; writing a song for Kermit is a bit like writing a song for a blankie that millions of children shared. And it’s daunting because, well, these are the Muppets, and the Muppets have rules. And as of 2004, the Muppets, as a property, are owned by Disney. And Disney has rules.

For example: At one point, McKenzie wrote a lyrical joke for Kermit, in which he would sing, “I remember when I was just a little piece of felt.” That didn’t fly. “I was told: ‘You’re not allowed to do that. The Muppets have always existed. You can’t break down their world.’ ” Another rule: Frogs and bears and pigs can talk, but penguins and chickens can’t. They can cluck or squawk musically, but they can’t say words. “So I was like, ‘Can we get the penguins to sing?’ And they’d say: ‘No. Penguins don’t sing.’ ”

It reminded me of an old Wired Magazine article about the Star Wars canon.  When I was in grad school, we reviewed a case study that looked at the way content owners like Disney or Time Warner managed their characters like consumer packaged goods companies managed their brands – creating rules for where they can appear, what their behaviors are like, what the uniforms or clothes look like, and which cross-promotions are appropriate, and which verboten, similar to the way corporate marketing departments will regulate how their logos can appear, the fonts you can use, and the proper spellings of their products.

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