After Tales of the Tinkerdee failed to find a producer, Henson and his team turned to a more traditional fairy tale setting. Their next television project came in 1964, where they attempted to turn Snow White into a long-running series. Similar to movie serials or soap operas, each episode would end on a cliffhanger, encouraging youngsters to tune in next week. Along the way, Snow White was dropped and Cinderella was made to be the main star. However, this too failed as no one was really up for a fairy tale that stretched out on a weekly basis.
However, the scraps from that project were reassembled in 1968 to become the first stand-alone Muppet special: Hey Cinderella!
Every title is better when it begins with a "Hey!"
The Henson-directed, hour-long special told the basic tale of Cinderella with some added twists and Muppets. King Goshposh returned as the father to Prince Arthur Charming. Unlike the original story, Prince Charming actually gets fleshed out and has a personality. With his father having decided that it's time he found a princess to marry, Arthur laments his fate, for every princess he had ever met was a stuck-up snob for knowing royalty. The king decides to throw a masquerade party so that Arthur may meet a princess in disguise to see their true character and hopefully fall in love.
Thank goodness he didn't inherit his father's felt complexion.
Arthur, still weary of the prospect of marrying a princess, blows off some steam in the royal gardens and chats with his good friend, Kermit the Frog (who is officially a frog for the first time on screen). Kermit lends him some advice, but mostly wallows in self-pity at the fact that he is treated like a lower class citizen for being a frog.
He's got his frog collar and everything.
Suddenly, straying from the original story even more, Cinderella comes to the garden and meets the prince well before the ball. Since the prince is dressed in his gardening clothes, she doesn't recognize him for being royalty and the two form a fast bond. Arthur appreciates her for being down to earth, unlike any snobby princess. He realizes that he must invite her to the ball so that he may be allowed to choose her as his bride. After convincing his father to extend the invitations to the whole kingdom, he arranges with Cinderella to each wear a geranium from the garden so that they may spot each other at the ball. Unfortunately, the king decides to give each citizen a geranium as his gift to them for attending his party.
Geraniums for all!
Cinderella's wicked stepmother and Muppet stepsisters receive their invitations to the ball, and tell Cinderella that she would be unable to come if she doesn't have a proper dress, shoes, or a carriage to arrive in. However, due to their wording, they never explicitly forbid her from attending the ball.
And sometimes I forget which one is not a Muppet.
After they leave, Cinderella frets in despair as she'll never get to meet the prince, or see her new friend Arthur either. As luck would have it, her Fairy Godmother appears, after having spent the first half of the special performing shoddy magic tricks at a comedy club.
"What's the deal with magic carpet food?"
See, this Fairy Godmother has great trouble performing magic. Fortunately for the story to progress, she manages to conjure a pretty dress, some glass slippers, and finally turns her pumpkin into a carriage.
Also, Splurge is involved. Some things are best left for you to discover on your own.
Giant, purple things.
Cinderella makes her way to the ball with Kermit as her coachman (frogs weren't invited, you see). And tries to track down Arthur the gardener. Prince Arthur also tries to find Cinderella, and, knowing that she is a commoner, expects her to be wearing a, to put it mildly, "non-fancy" dress. The two run into each other anyway, but are unable to recognize each other. The prince introduces himself as the prince and assumes that Cinderella is a princess. They dance together anyway, making the best of a bad situation.
We hope you have a huge suspension of disbelief in order for this plot to work.
At midnight, just before the masks are to be taken off, Cinderella leaves so that her magic outfit doesn't vanish. She leaves behind a glass slipper, and Arthur, chasing after her to catch her name, steps on the slipper and crushes it!
What a twist!
Well, now, anything can happen. Sure, some liberties had been taken with the story before, but now a major plot point has literally been pulverized! What follows is what makes this a more politically correct version of the story. The king, having decided that the mystery princess from the ball should wed his son, sends out a message, seeking her out so that they may be married. Cinderella, realizes that she is the one everyone is looking for, but she doesn't want to marry the Prince even if she did have a nice time with him. It wouldn't be fair to Arthur the gardener.
How's that for a modern take on the classic tale?
Months pass and eventually, the king realizes that the princess must be hiding. He sends Arthur to look for her at Cinderella's house (since that'd been the last place one would expect to find a princess). There, the Prince and Cinderella finally meet and she learns the truth that he was the gardener all along. She tries to prove that she was the princess, but all she has left is the other glass slipper and her dog Rufus buried it.
Oh yeah, Rufus is in this. Remember? From The Land of Tinkerdee and The Muppet Valentine's Show?
Eventually, the Fairy Godmother shows up to set things straight and...sends Cinderella off to Kansas. After multiple failed attempts to bring her back (and summoning every other character into the house), Cinderella finally reappears in her famous dress.
And they all lived happily ever after.
The special did a great job of combining that Muppet humor with a classic story. The characters were well-developed, more so than the Disney version that would have been fresh on people's minds at the time. In watching the special, I legitimately forgot that half of the cast were Muppets because their interactions with the human characters are so seamless. For an audience seeing this in 1969 for the first time (before Sesame Street), this would have been their big introduction to the Muppet world. Although the Muppets mostly played supporting roles, their influence was all over the show. The popularity of this special would warrant a couple more returns to "Muppetland" as more fairy tales were brought to life with their own Henson flavor.