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Literature / A Hippie in the House of Mouse

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I felt like I'd just handed Don Quixote his spurs, or Captain Ahab his harpoon. And I thought to myself "Bernie, you putz, you're in it now." And with that I consigned myself to weeks of pouring through accounting books, consulting lawyers, calling in favors, twisting nuts, and setting up Hollywood lunches. All to answer the simple question: "how does a frog swallow a mouse a hundred times his size?"
Bernie Brillstein, Where Did I Go Right?note 

Most people who know about Jim Henson are aware of the fact that, towards the end of his life, he had made an attempt in the late Eighties to get Disney to purchase The Muppetsnote  in order to have more freedom to pursue his own projects. At the same time, he was struggling with projects that either underperformed or flopped outright, before ultimately dying in 1990 from a disease that he was too busy to properly notice. But what if he decided to get his foot in the door earlier?

In late July, 1979, Jim Henson was struggling to get The Dark Crystal off the ground, with no film studio having any desirable interest in picking up the decidedly un-Kermit-like pitch. At the same time, Disney was struggling to remain afloat, with the death of Walt Disney just over a decade prior effectively making the company a chicken with the head cut off: flailing around with no clear direction. And had it not been for a wayward thought crossing Jim's mind while having drinks with his manager, these paths wouldn't cross for several more years.


But as you can imagine, that's not how this story goes...

A Hippie in the House of Mouse (Jim Henson at Disney, 1980) is a thread and timeline on by Geekhis Khan, with the Point of Divergence occuring in late 1979, when Jim Henson and his business manager Bernie Brillstein raise sufficient money to buy roughly 10% of Disney common stock, gaining seats on the Board of Directors for Jim himself and his legal advisor Al Gottesman. The changes from reality pile up from there.


This timeline features the following tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: In-Universe, in Mask of the Monkey King, Abner Ravenwood, played by David Carradine, is asked to take action against a group of ninjas, and replies "Do I look like I know kung fu?"
  • Allohistorical Allusion:
    • The infamous rainbow coat wouldn't be used for the Sixth Doctor, due to Colin Baker being allowed to have a darker outfit. Instead, it would be used (albiet refitted) for the Seventh Doctor.
      • Similarly, although the show is butterflied away due to a certain casting choice for the Eighth Doctor, technically speaking, Neil Patrick Harris still gets to say his first big role was as a doctor.
  • Benevolent Boss: As IOTL, Jim Henson is beloved by those who work under him because he constantly stands up for and vouches for them; Up to Eleven when he sheds his conflict-avoidant tendencies (something of a Fatal Flaw he had in our world) and finds ways to resolve disputes without upsetting people. Even notoriously difficult people like Terry Gilliam come to appreciate working with him.
  • Composite Character: In universe, the sixteenth James Bond film (titled A Quantum of Solace, but as unrelated to our timeline's Quantum of Solace as either of them are to the short story) mixes elements of two stories from the For Your Eyes Only collection, so that Kristatos, the informant (and actual villain) of "Risico" is a code name for Milton Krest, the millionaire from "The Hildebrand Rarity".
  • Different World, Different Movies: Practically one of the timeline's calling cards, but to name specific examples:
  • Disneyfication: invoked Discussed: After it's decided to greenlight Maus for the first film made for the Walter Elias Disney Signature Series, Bernie Brillstein immediately hit a roadblock in the form of Art Spiegelman refusing to even consider Disney touching his comic. It takes Bernienote  emphasizing that they are being genuine and serious in making this movie that he agrees to it.
    Naturally, we almost immediately ran into a roadblock. Art Spiegelman slammed the phone in my ear when I called. He refused to even consider a Disney film of Maus. Honestly, I don't blame him. I also don't just give up. Steve [Spielberg] and I practically stalked the poor bastard until he agreed to meet with us. We met him (sort of ironically) at Katz's, along with Mel Brooks. "No fucking costumes," Art said, meaning the walkarounds. "No rides, no T-shirts, no toys, nothing. And sure as hell no fucking songs!"
    "What kind of asshole do you think I am?" I asked him. "None of those things were ever on the table!"
  • Dramatic Irony: As noted by Jim himself, who wasn't particularly happy with how war-driven G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was, unlike the Transformers movie, GI Joe's movie didn't see anyone die.
    And Jim Henson noted, wryly, that while Transformers: The Movie had been a slaughterhouse, no one had actually died in GI Joe: The Movie, the "violent" series that he’d been so viscerally opposed to.
  • Executive Meddling: Invoked in multiple cases:
  • Foreshadowing: Metatextually, the fact that the post concerning Quantum Leap, a show built on Setting Right What Once Went Wrong, preceded the final update of Part VII, which reveals Jim lives past 1990 ITTL.
    Does it make the pain of losing a loved one all the more painful by giving us a subconscious feeling that this is "not the way it's supposed to be?"
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • invoked The nail occurs while Jim and Bernie are having drinks following another failed attempt on Jim's part to successfully pitch The Dark Crystal. Bernie had attempted to talk Jim into proposing a two-film deal with Lord Lew Grade: a sequel to The Muppet Movie in exchange for The Dark Crystal. But then, without thinking, Bernie mentioned that the only real way Jim would be able to get his vision made on his own terms was to have his own movie studio...
      "I know, Jim," I said. "Hollywood is hell. Unless you own the studio, your vision is at the whim of some asshole with an MBA more concerned with returns than with making magic." I ordered another round and we went back to small talk. I began to put the whole thing behind me.
      Apparently, he didn't. About half an hour later he said, "Bernie, do you think I could buy Disney?"
      • In his book, Bernie acknowledges a second, smaller nail: If he hadn't assured Jim that, if he put his mind to it, he could buy Disney, Jim wouldn't have followed through on it.
    • Brian Henson interns at Imagineering. As a result, the Figment puppet from EPCOT's Journey to Imagination is that much more ambulatory, and there's a walk-around/meet-and-greet version roaming around Future World in the 1980s.
    • Lisa Henson interns with Lucasfilm in 1981; she ends up changing the trajectory of the Indiana Jones films with her treatment for the second film (a sequel set in China, 1938 called The Mask of the Monkey King, featuring the return of Marion Ravenwood and an Imperial Japanese colonel as the Big Bad). After graduating university she gets hired by Amblin, works as a producer on said film, and helps realise some of the plans for the last OT Star Wars movie (retitled Legacy Of The Jedi), as well as a few other changes; she also convinces George Lucas to scrap the second Death Star, the return to Dagobah (in favour of Yoda spiritually contacting Luke), The Reveal of Leia being his twin (but retaining her Force-Sensitive aspect), and the recast of Annikin in the Force ghost final shot.
    • One of the sponsors of the Imagination Pavilion is Commodore.
      • This in turn affects said company’s founder Jack Tramiel’s later decisions; notably, instead of leaving the company over wanting his sons to inherit (NB: It’s not certain why he did, but this is strongly rumoured to be the reason), seeing Henson’s children being made to work for and earn their accomplishments helps him realise his kids could only benefit from such experience (possibly even getting high positions meritocratically). He stays with Commodore, and his boys get good jobs in different companies to build connections.
    • Production and post-production on The Dark Crystal is six months ahead of OTL, meaning it opens up by Christmas 1981 — before the hype for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial can drown it out. This makes it a minor hit rather than the flop it was IOTL.
      • Unfortunately, this timeline's equivalent of The Great Muppet Caper is rescheduled by overconfident Disney execs (looking to take the wind out of Don Bluth's sails by crushing The Secret of NIMH), and gets eaten alive at the box office in '82, only finding its audience after the home video release — mirroring what happened with TRON IOTL. TRON, for its part, is saved ITTL by opening around Christmas of 1982, when E.T. is not dominating the box office to quite the same degree.
    • In 1982, The Wonderful World of Disney is retooled as Disney's World of Magic, a showcase for new and exciting talent at the studio, executive-produced and hosted by Jim himself (making it the alternate-timeline equivalent of The Jim Henson Hour).
    • As Chief Creative Officer, Jim is invited to the opening of Tokyo Disneyland in April 1983. While vacationing in Japan, he rediscovers bunraku puppetry... and is exposed to Japanese animation for the first time, which leads in the end to Disney cutting a distribution deal with Hayao Miyazaki much earlier than IOTL. Disney becomes an early supporter of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, dubbing and releasing Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1985 and Castle in the Sky the next year.
    • After the successful release of the TRON arcade game (which also happened IOTL), Jim develops a newfound interest in video games — and winds up working with Nintendo's Gunpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto on an arcade adaptation of The Dark Crystal.
    • In our timeline, Tim Burton left Disney in 1984 after a short film he made (the original version of Frankenweenie) was canned by the board for being too scary for children; he was then tapped by another studio to direct Pee-wee's Big Adventure, with results we all now know. In the Henson timeline, Tim remains at Disney and becomes one of their rising stars, providing concept art for The Black Cauldron, directing a short-film version of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and producing a two-hour Halloween special for World of Magic in 1985.
    • It's purely because of Jim vouching for the two of them that Disney decides to pick up two certain movies that were pitched to them (which they chose not to IOTL): Ghostbusters (1984) and Back to the Future.
    • Instead of going to CBC and HBO, this timeline's version of Fraggle Rock (called "Waggle Rock") winds up becoming a successful launch title for the Disney Channel.
    • Instead of developing Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini are hired by Brad Bird to work on this timeline's equivalent: Bird's TV adaptation of The Spirit, co-produced by Disney and Amblin Entertainment. (And then making B:TAS - in 1989, three years sooner to coincide with Sam Raimi’s adaptation.)
    • In a complicated series of deals, Disney Studios buys Marvel Comics about 20 years earlier than in our timeline, and Marvel in turn buys TSR, Inc. — meaning that Disney now owns and publishes Dungeons & Dragons, and Gary Gygax has a seat on the board at Marvel right next to Stan Lee.
    • The Friday the 13th series winds up taking a different turn due to Sam Raimi directing the fifth film. Instead of the OTL film, where it had a random paramedic being a Jason copy-cat, it was a psychological, self-aware horror film that went all in on Tommy being the killer. As a result, the film winds up redefining the slasher genre, giving birth to the "smart slasher" trend.
    • The Renaissance Age of Animation still occurs in this timeline, but it is widely reckoned to begin with Disney's Oscar-winning adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are.
    • invoked Due to their role in preventing ACC's takeover of Disney, Amblin Entertainment (as a result of not having enough "liquid funds") turns down The Money Pit, with it ultimately going to Paramount thanks in part to Steven Spielberg. This results in Kelsey Grammer getting cast as Walter instead of Tom Hanks... which causes so many problems in getting the movie madenote  that, when it ultimately releases in September of 1986, it becomes a big Box Office Bombnote  and barely avoids being Grammer's Star-Derailing Rolenote . A documentary about the debacle, The Pits, would get made and air on HBO on July 26th, 1996.
      Hollywood history is full of infamously troubled productions, from Apocalypse Now to Heaven's Gate to Ishtar. And among these ignoble productions was 1986's The Money Pit, starring Kelsey Grammer and (eventually) Dianne Keaton. In a case of life imitating art, a story about two well-meaning people attempting to restore an old house with everything going expensively wrong became a production by a well-meaning creative team where everything went expensively wrong.

      I guess they should have seen it coming?
    • Henson's Labyrinth is more successful at the box office in this timeline, but is not the fondly remembered cult classic it is in our world. Instead of David Bowie as Jareth, Henson casts Michael Jackson, who is at the absolute peak of his popularity in 1986; the film gets a second wave of interest a short time later, after Jackson dies after complications from surgery at the age of
    • Freddie Mercury avoids contracting H.I.V. (due to a random false positive spooking him into caution), and in turn provides music for ‘’The Song of Susan’’.
    • invoked Aside from the implication that it's mostly unchanged from IOTL, it is mentioned that Quantum Leap lasts two seasons longer, ending in 1995, was moved to the Hyperion Channel for the last three seasons, and explored "more overtly spiritual area" in said seasons.
    • Purely because of the fact that circumstances in the world led to Jim Henson showing up to hang out with Dick Nunis for a day of surfing a couple days after injuring his leg and refusing to seek treatment for the wound, Jim winds up being forced to go to the hospital to get treated, giving him the wake up call to take better care of himself, meaning he lives past 1990.
    • As a result of "random butterflies" (as the author puts it) spawning from the first nail, a documentary on the Watergate scandal is shown in Yugoslavia, leading Ivan Stambolić to not write a certain letter to his fellows in the Communist party, and from there averting the circumstances that caused the Yugoslav least for now.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: invoked.
    • In this case, Japanese Love Halyx. After successful summer engagements at Disneyland and Epcot Center in 1982, Disney arranges for Halyx to play a week of shows in Tokyo Disneyland, and a rabid fandom for the band springs up overnight; a promotional single released in Japan actually charts in the Oricon top 10. A hastily arranged multi-city tour (the first of many) follows — not to mention, eventually, a licensed cartoon created by Toei Animation that developed a fandom of its own; for a lot of Japanese kids in 1983, the Halyx show WAS their Star Wars.
    • The Japanese appreciation for The Dark Crystal is also addressed and expanded; after being upset at the film’s lukewarm US reception (if still better than our timeline’s), Henson is floored when, during a trip to Tokyo, he sees how much more love the film got, even overshadowing his bigger franchises. This implicitly helps bolster its reputation into being a Disney classic, with successful games and even a movie sequel a few years later.
  • Gender Flip: In the 1990 Buck Rogers series, Twikki is a Fem Bot voiced by Fran Brill.
  • Hard Work Fallacy: Addressed by Imagineer Jack Lindquist in his memoirs, in reference to the Tomorrowland band Halyx (who remained almost complete unknowns IOTL).
    As a professional "hype man", to use the vernacular, people always ask me what it takes to become "famous". What is the "secret" to breaking out? And the only honest answer that I can give is dumb luck. Be seen by the right people with the right connections at the right time. The truth is that some of the most talented musicians in the world can languish in obscurity for decades while some hack with three chords to his repertoire becomes an international superstar. And it is entirely possible if not likely that Halyx might have played over the summer and sold some albums through Disney and largely went about their lives. But they got lucky: John Henson was a fan.
  • In Spite of a Nail:
    It was like fate; preordained. Or like if some sort of radical time traveler was, like, interfering to make it happen in just a certain way.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In his autobiography All You Need is a Chin: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, Bruce Campbell mentions that he tried talking Sam Raimi out of doing Friday the 13th 5 because of how unimpressive the script sounded. But Raimi insisted, and even went as far as rewriting the script, and sure enough:
    He was right. He redefined a freaking genre. My bad.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: This winds up being the key reason why Jim Henson lives past 1990. After injuring his leg and putting off seeing a doctor for several days, he met up with Dick Nunis to go surfing... who then promptly dragged Jim to a hospital the moment he saw his untreated wound, all the while shooting down Jim's repeated desire to not be a bother. His wound was promptly treated and cleared, and after being told by a doctor in detail about how he was at risk of going into septic shock, Jim (properly scared straightnote  decides to start taking better care of himself and take advantage of being given more time to live.
  • Logo Joke: As with OTL Indiana Jones movies, Mask of the Monkey King: An Indiana Jones Adventure opens with the Paramount logo Match Cutting into a scene; in this case a mountain in China.
  • "No. Just... No" Reaction: Just like IOTL, Disney wasn't interested in picking up Back to the Future because of the "incest subplot" concerning Marty's mom falling in love with him. Unlike IOTL, however, Jim and Bernie vouching for it winds up leading to it getting greenlit for the Fantasia Films labelnote .
  • The Other Marty: invoked Because of The Money Pit undergoing a disastrous production, Shelly Long (who played Anne) eventually decides to leave the film (due to being pregnant), causing the filmmakers to bring in Diane Keaton to replace her. This incident is what causes the trope ITTL to be known as "The Other Anne".
  • Playing Against Type:
    • Invoked with Jim's desire to stretch beyond the Muppets. He complains to Bernie Brillstein that when other studios look at him "all they see is Kermit".
    • In Batman (1989), Willem Dafoe is cast in the lead role and more notably, the Joker is played by Robin Williams - giving him a villainous role over a decade sooner than in our world.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: invoked Jeff Katzenberg and Michael Eisner's desire to create a Ringworld seriesnote  under their Hollywood Television brand ran into a major hurdle: the fact that Larry Niven had sold the rights to the Kzinti species to Paramount back in the 1970s, and Paramount wouldn't sell them back. However, there was a solution: when acquiring the Known Space rights from Niven, Katzenberg had also acquired the rights to The Draco Tavern as well... meaning they could use the Chirps species to replace the Kzinti. Or, in other words:
    So, the series went forward as a sort of hybrid of Ringworld, Gil "The Arm" Hamilton, and Draco's Tavern centered somewhat loosely around the events of the Ringworld novel series, with plot lines from the other stories lifted and repurposed into episodes.
  • Production Posse: In-Universe, Tim Burton has a group of regular collaborators for his stop-motion pieces, including Rick Heinrichs, Stephen Chiodo, and (later) Henry Selick.
  • Remake Cameo: Disney's Buck Rogers series starring Bruce Campbell features guest appearances by Gil Gerard and Erin Grey as admirals and Mel Blanc voicing a computer.
  • Scrapbook Story: The chosen format for the thread. Book and magazine excerpts, video transcripts, and forum posts are all used to assemble the plot.
  • Teenage Mutant Samurai Wombats: Used within the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, with the third movie giving them Evil Counterparts in the form of the Transgenic Teenage Kung-Fu Iguanas, all named after modern artists.
  • Troubled Production: In-Universe:
    • The Money Pit becomes proverbial for this, not least because the inflating costs due to unexpected disasters mirrors the plot of the movie itself. The leads (Kelsey Grammer and Shelley Long) hate each other, with the crew taking sides, until they have to film their scenes seperately, and then Long walks out. The set costs a fortune (they couldn't find a real house that works), plus another fortune to add all the "this house is collapsing" effects, which bring it very close to being an actual deathtrap. Executive Meddling then leads to the director walking out, and the writer having to fill in. The executives continue to meddle after it's in the can, getting into a three-way editing war with the writer-director and the actual editor. And then, for unrelated reasons, the executives walk out, and the new suits disown the picture entirely.
    • Disney’s adaptation of Mort is gruelling on much of the crew, especially due to most being Locked Out of the Loop regarding Howard Ashman’s illness. The animators are already disgruntled at having to leave their homes, with Howard’s mood flipping from sweet to aggravated on the regular, and even Terry Pratchett almost walking out on the project before he’s privately let in on the secret. It’s only when they see his secret cameo in The Song of Susan that they understand why Ashman was so difficult to work with; fortunately, the film proves highly successful on release in spite of it all.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Word of God warns us that some of the people telling this story are inevitably going to fall to the temptation to lie or prevaricate to make themselves look better or others look worse. The obvious example is Bernie Brillstein, whose sheer gusto sweeps aside the question of whether his foresight was really as good as he makes it seem in retrospect.
  • A Very Special Episode: The Song of Susan is an invoked example where, in light of learning that Richard Hunt and Howard Ashman are dying, Jim endeavours to break the stigma of HIV by raising public awareness. The film features a teenage girl who contracts the disease from a blood transfusion and is shunned publicly for it, leading to her friendship with an older man played by Hunt (metatextually playing himself); Ashman also cameos (a One-Scene Wonder due to being in his hospital room). The film, a Fair for Its Day success with several award wins, has all profits donated to HIV/AIDS charities.
  • Wham Line: During a discussion of how Disney could buy assets to dilute their stock and prevent a takeover.
    Caroline Ahmanson: Gentlemen, isn't it obvious? There’s a company that's a perfect fit. They have existing IP that's a seamless match for Disney's brand. We've even been working with them for years now: Henson Associates.


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