Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Bean Norman Bunny, Part 3: Down the Rabbit Hole

All things must come to an end, and for Bean Bunny, the ending came a lot sooner than he had expected.  Bean's puppeteer was Steve Whitmire, who was the youngest to join the original Muppet Show crew.  He was given a variety of new characters to perform, such as Rizzo the Rat and Wembley Fraggle.  It seemed as if Bean would be his breakout hit, but just as the bunny started gaining attention, Jim Henson unexpectedly passed away.  Whitmire was assigned to take over Jim's biggest roles, namely Ernie and Kermit the Frog.  Bean Bunny was forced to become an afterthought, because Whitmire's new schedule only allowed him to play the important characters.

However, Bean Bunny was not simply ignored.  He became the unwilling victim of all the negative feelings of the collective Muppet Company.  At first, he was just given minor, usually-non speaking roles.  His biggest role in a Muppet movie to date is the poor, starving child in The Muppets' Christmas Carol.

How the mighty have fallen

But malnutrition and neglect were not the only pains this rabbit had to endure.  Having grown tired of his "cute" schtick, any excuse would be made by the producers to deliver abuse to the poor bunny.  He would become the punchlines of scenes, literally.  He would get smashed by doors, trampled on, or eaten whenever he made an appearance in a future filmed Muppet event.

As Brian Henson noted, "Inside the Muppet Company, we love to hate Bean Bunny."

Even in non-live material, Bean Bunny got the short end of the stick.  In one "Muppet Kids" story book, Bean (who is still the same age he always is) moves into the Muppet community and is shunned by everyone else.

I miss the Bunny Picnic.

In certain ancient/unmodernized societies like the Romans or some aboriginal tribes, punishment for a terrible crime would result in banishment.  Basically, people would be forced to live on the outskirts of the community and, while they would be protected and helped in times of emergency, they would not be invited to partake in the society's events and customs.

But for even WORSE crimes, the guilty party would be forced to stay and participate in all of the society's events.  However, everyone else would ignore them.  Shunning in its purest form.  This was considered to be harsher than banishment, and was stopped by the federal law in Amish communities for being "cruel and unusual punishment."

The Muppets have shunned Bean Bunny.  He is allowed to appear in everything they do, but he is not included in the fun.  He is shoved to the background, and only brought forth to be humiliated.  Bean's only crime was being himself, an attribute that was widely celebrated and encouraged for a couple of years, and then it became the cause of all his torment and anguish.

Too much of a good thing can have unfortunate consequences.  Just look at all of the celebrities whose lives have been ruined because we could not accept just a small amount of their talents.  Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Ted Williams (the homeless man with the golden voice).  These were all people who had a gift, had that gift exploited, and then turned into beaten washed up versions of what they once were.

The Muppets should have been immune to this sort of thing.  They are living cartoons.  They're personalities and lifestyles rarely change.  But the audience can change.  And in this case, a harmless little bunny rabbit took the bullet.

R.I.P. Bean Bunny's career (1986-1990)
Simpler times.  Cuter times.