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Since Jim Henson's death in 1990, Kermit the Frog had been performed by longtime Muppeteer Steve Whitmire, but that changed late last year when he was dismissed by Disney. News of Whitmire's firing only broke last week, and while Whitmire said that there two reasons why Disney let him go, he didn't specify what they were. Now it's been revealed what the studio's reasoning behind the unusual casting change was: Whitmire's "unacceptable business conduct."
Regarding the business conduct problem, Steve Whitmire's communication style was described as "overly hostile and unproductive," and his negotiation tactics also delayed production numerous times. This "unprofessional behavior" had supposedly been going on for a number of years, and because Whitmire did not address Disney's feedback to him, the studio finally decided to fire him last October.
Steve Whitmire went into more detail on the behind-the-scenes drama will providing his side of the story to THR, saying that one of the main reasons for his dismissal was because of the short-lived Muppets TV series that aired from 2015 to 2016. Whitmire, who had been performing for The Muppets since 1978, stated that while the show was airing, states that Disney felt that he had been "disrespectful" during the show's run because of his character issues with Kermit the Frog in that project. One specific problem that Whitmire had with the TV show was a note left about a scene where Kermit lied to his nephew, Robin, about his break-up with Miss Piggy. Whitmire felt that Kermit wouldn't have lied to Robin as he's too compassionate. Whitmire has clashed several times before with Disney about the Muppets since the company acquired the Muppets brand in 2004, but evidently it was this TV series that made things especially worse.
As for the union disagreement, that was officially classified as "refusing to work on a particular project," though Steve Whitmire clarified what happened in that area, saying:
I happened to get caught in the middle of a dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations which occurred while I was in-flight to work on the project and the associated commercial. I did in fact shoot the commercial, but was unable to shoot the material for the project in order to comply with my obligations to the guild. Ironically in that situation, my rep had negotiated a special deal with the guild so that we could do the work within the budget parameters for the project.
Fellow Mupeteer Matt Vogel will now be performing Kermit the Frog, and he will make his debut as the frog in a "Muppets Thought of the Week" video later this week. As for Steve Whitmire, he remains "baffled" by everything that happened, as he doesn't understand why those two issues were deemed strong enough to end his 39-year-long career with The Muppets. He's now moving on to other projects, but he remains sad that Disney ignored "the value" of seeing the Muppets remain consistent and properly adapted.
There's no doubt that this whole situation was unfortunate, but at least Muppets fans can take comfort knowing that Steve Whitmire left a unique mark on both Kermit the Frog and the entire Muppet family for nearly four decades, and that can never be taken away.