Stars versus Rainbows: Walt Disney’s and Jim Henson’s “Philosophies of Childhood”


Walt Disney World

How to Cite

McDermott, B. (2009). Stars versus Rainbows: Walt Disney’s and Jim Henson’s “Philosophies of Childhood”. Stream: Interdisciplinary Journal of Communication, 2(1), 33–38.


The television special The Muppets go to Walt Disney World (1990) provides an unique opportunity to discuss the differences between two influential producers of children’s media culture, Jim Henson and Walt Disney. Several scholars highlight distinctive differences between Disney and Henson’s products, including Jack Zipes. The film was created both as promotional material for the park and the new Muppet 3D adventure ride; it also marked the merger of Jim Henson Productions within the Walt Disney Corporation. With the sudden death of Henson, the deal was called off. The special still demonstrates many of the important ideological differences between the Henson and Disney conception of childhood and family. Drawing on Karal Ann Marling, Peter Stevens, and Virginia Salamone’s work on the constructed nature of the park experience, this paper examines how the Muppet’s visit breaks and bends both the expected behavior of visitors and their expected pleasure. Central to the examination become the distinctions between social and moral transgression, and biological versus found families. Disney theme parks and films focus on the importance of social conformity as way to protect of childhood innocence, which is opposed by Henson’s characters experimentation and self discovery. Henson’s character separate experiences with the park critique Disney’s biological definition of family. These conflicting notions and satire of classic Disney values may explain why this special has not been re-released, despite Disney purchase of the Muppet franchise in 2006.