1980s Hit Cartoon Can’t Stream Anywhere And Now We Know Why

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

The Muppet Babies missing

We live in an age where seemingly every beloved TV show of yore is bingable on streaming platforms. So it’s noticeably strange that the beloved 1980’s cartoon, Muppet Babies, is glaringly lacking from any streaming service. Indeed, the reasons behind its absence have long been a mystery. Recently, however, on a panel at L.A. Comic Con, Guy Gilchrist, a cartoonist and Jim Henson collaborator, shared some insights, explaining the culprit preventing streaming the whole show in an all-night binge are “copyrights and trademarks” obstacles.  

As Gilchrist fondly described, collaboration characterized the entertainment industry in the 1980s—an epoch preceding corporate takeovers, which, among other things, introduced stringent copyright policies.

As the cartoonist waxed nostalgic, he remembered incorporating clips, including scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Warsinto Muppet Babies, moves which—while inspired and probably making for wacky, engaging content—undoubtedly fail to bypass Disney’s I.P. wall today. 

Kermit Indiana Jones
Muppet Babies parodying Indiana Jones

But the 80s were a different time. 

After all, the inclusion of Indiana Jones or Princess Leia was possible because of the relationships between Jim Henson and other industry giants like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Lucas even collaborated with Henson on projects such as Labyrinth while Henson’s team, for their part, contributed to major Star Wars characters like Yoda and E.T.

It’s difficult not to yearn for a time when one creative genius like Jim Henson could readily work another creative genius’s character—say, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws—into a kid’s puppet show like Muppet Babies. 

Muppet Babies Star Wars
Muppet Babies does a Star Wars parody

But, to put it mildly, the entertainment industry has transformed, replacing the friendly exchanges and informal agreements of the past with ironclad, devastatingly inflexible copyright policies. 

Studios like Disney and Universal enjoy unrivaled copyright control, backed by teams of high-powered lawyers akin to an evil Avengers, meaning the tight-knit creative atmosphere of the 80s has become—like the decade itself—a thing of the past. 

This cultural and legal shift explains why the storied Henson series remains unavailable on streaming platforms despite its popularity and historical importance. 

Muppet Babies and Johnny Carson
Miss Piggy does the late night talkshow rounds on Muppet Babies

Airing from 1984 to 1991 on CBS, Muppet Babies spanned eight seasons and 107 episodes. It showcased the Muppets as toddlers in a nursery, offering a unique, Rugrats-esque perspective on these all-familiar characters. Moreover, in a nod perhaps to Peanuts, puppetry fans might remember an intriguing aspect of the show: Nanny’s face was never revealed, aligning with how the babies’ ground-level perspective. 

Nanny, Gilchrist went on to share, was actually inspired by Barbara Billingsley, who played Mrs. Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. In a further tribute to another film, The Wizard of Oz, the creators behind the series included Nanny’s iconic striped socks. 

Nanny on The Muppet Babies

If these easter eggs and homages are any indicator, Muppet Babies reveled in references to other pop culture staples. In 2023, of course, if Nanny and co. were ever streamable on Netflix, the more overt shout-outs would result in complex, unimaginably expensive legal catastrophes.

Another approach would thus be to reimagine the show while preserving and continuing the I.P. That’s precisely what Disney Junior did with their 2018 reboot, created with computer-animated 3D graphics. Still, while Disney Junior’s imagining featured a few of the original characters, fans longing for their 80s nostalgia fix were left wanting–and remain so. 

Source: Dennis Pastorizo