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I was watching Sesame Street with my niece when I realized that the Muppet characters (portrayed by puppeteers) and the characters played by human actors do not seem to treat each other as different from each other in any fundamental way. Muppets are clearly sentient and possess civil rights, but does that mean that they really are human beings? I used to think that this was an absurd question, but the revelation a few years ago that Hello Kitty is actually a British schoolgirl and not a cat has made me rethink my biases.

In the world of Sesame Street, has there been any indication that Muppets are or are not biologically distinctive from humans? In other words, is the portrayal of Muppet characters using puppets rather than human actors simply an artistic technique (e.g. children like shows with puppets), or are we supposed to conclude that the likes of Grover, Elmo, et al. belong to a non-human species or civilization?

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    Nah, you have it backwards; the "human" characters are simply incredibly life-like muppets. :D – DavidW Mar 4 at 0:04
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    Rowlf the Dog is not human. – Organic Marble Mar 4 at 0:14
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    I'm reasonably sure that Kermit is a frog. – Valorum Mar 4 at 0:14
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    @RobertColumbia - Life, uh, finds a way. – Valorum Mar 4 at 0:20
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    "Am I a Man or a Muppet?" - youtube.com/watch?v=cRTjksM3YAs – NKCampbell Mar 4 at 16:24
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The Muppets are a veritable cornucopia of different species. Some are obviously Muppet versions of humans, like Statler and Waldorf...

enter image description here

... although it appears there's a distinction to be made between even Muppet humans and actual humans, judging by the song Man or Muppet from The Muppets (2011).

Some Muppets are apparently meant to belong to other subsets of the animal kingdom, such as Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy, who were clearly identified as a frog, bear, and pig, respectively, in The Muppet Movie (1979) (credit to PlutoThePlanet for this one).

Some are clearly identified as monsters:

Some as fruit or vegetables:

And some as aliens, like Gonzo, whose extraterrestrial origins were revealed in Muppets from Space.

This scene from Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird makes a clear distinction between "people" and the various other creatures that live on Sesame Street, emphasising the sheer diversity of life to be found there.

MISS FINCH: Hello, Big. Perhaps the dodos weren't perfect for you, but I have managed to find you another lovely bird family.

MARIA: He doesn't need another family. He has one right here, and we all love him.

MISS FINCH: But he's a bird. He'd be happier with his own kind.

MARIA: Well, we're all happy here on Sesame Street... and we've got all kinds. We've got people... and cows. And we've got... we've got Bert and Ernie. And there's dogs... and birds. We've got monsters... and kids. And there's honkers... why, we've even got grouches!

MISS FINCH: So you have. And you're all happy?

BIG BIRD: Yes, definitely.

MISS FINCH: Well... you did go to look for him, so that must mean you care. He does seem to have lots of friends, not feathered, but... all right. Big, from now on, Sesame Street is your home.

BIG BIRD: Oh, boy! Oh, boy! Oh, boy! Thank you!

MISS FINCH: Well, I've done it again. Placed another stray bird in a good home. Case dismissed. Back to work.

As far as anatomy is concerned, Muppets are apparently intended to be living, biological creatures with muscles, skeletons, digestive systems, etc.

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    And Elmo is a monster "Elmo is a 3½-year-old red monster with a high pitched voice and a contagious giggle. Enthusiastic, friendly and cheerful, he always wants to be part of everything that goes on. However, like most preschoolers, he sometimes doesn't have the skills or knowledge to do what he wants. But that never stops him because he has a very positive, optimistic view of himself and life." - web.archive.org/web/20140714121954/http://… – Valorum Mar 4 at 0:32
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    Yes, the furry brightly coloured Sesame Street people are "monsters". Oscar and other garbage-loving furry people are "grouches". – Robyn Mar 4 at 10:20
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    I think much stronger evidence for Kermit being an in-universe frog is that the entire plot of The Muppet Movie (1979) revolved around a frog leg producer trying to catch him. – PlutoThePlanet Mar 4 at 14:40
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    Other prominent human Muppets: the Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (possible exception of Animal), Bert and Ernie, the Count (if you consider vampires human), Scooter (and by extension Skeeter, but I think she was only ever seen in animated form), Walter (a more recent addition). – Darrel Hoffman Mar 4 at 14:44
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    Miss Piggy is clearly a pig too. – Mast Mar 4 at 15:51
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Here's an answer straight from Kermit's mouth on what he is. I believe you can extrapolate that out to the other Muppets as well:

Weekend Update with Kermit the Frog

Meyers: ... which means, in this case, Congress was nothing more than a puppet to the food industry. (to Kermit) No offense...

Kermit: Oh that's okay I'm not a puppet I'm a Muppet.

Meyers: Oh what's the difference?

Kermit: Ah well, a puppet is actually controlled by a person, whereas I am an actual talking frog.

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    Isn't that what a puppet would want you to think? – Barmar Mar 4 at 15:54
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    @Barmar Don't you mean... "Isn't that what a puppeteer would want you to think?" – Logarr Mar 4 at 16:14
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    @Logarr Surely you mean muppeteer? – Graylocke Mar 5 at 7:48
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While not direct canon, The Happytime Murders directed and produced by Brian Henson and The Jim Henson Company, has the "puppets" as a separate race that evolved alongside humanity, and are minorities. Of course, since Disney owns the trademark on "Muppets", they can't actually be Muppets, but they're pretty obviously meant to be Muppets, and were written by the Henson family.

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    A bit like the Toons in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. They're a separate species existing alongside humanity, too, containing several different sub-species - or at least they appear to be different, though there's no restriction on mixing, as Roger has a human-looking wife. – GordonD Mar 4 at 10:01
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    Big difference here: Toons were created by the movie studios; that's why (for instance) Betty Boop is still black and white and doesn't get much work since Toons went to color. – Zeiss Ikon Mar 4 at 13:08
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    If we're doing other movies. Another take is Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles. Although no humans are shown in the film, one of the characters receives an OBE - which is a human created award. – Peter M Mar 5 at 12:55
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As others have explained, the Muppet characters are all pretty much what they seem to be. Kermit is a frog, Miss Piggy is a pig, Cookie Monster and Elmo are monsters, etc. The history of many of them have been shown in the Muppets and Sesame Street universe, and they're consistent with the types of beings that they identify as.

But like many animals in fiction, they're anthropomorphized. They can speak, drive, ride bicycles, own property, etc.

One of the things that Sesame Street tries to teach children is ideas of inclusion and tolerance. The human cast has been diverse since the start, and having the humans and non-humans treat each other as equals drives home this concept. There's no discrimination in the Sesame Street universe.

This is less so in the more adult Muppet Show universe, but the characters who discriminate against the Muppets are always the villains. This is a clear metaphor for the evils of racism.

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  • "the characters who discriminate against the Muppets are always the villains" IIRC some of the episodes of the Muppet Show include disclaimers about racism now because of their depictions of minority groups. – nick012000 Mar 5 at 3:32
  • @nick012000 But they didn't discriminate against them on the basis of being Muppets. It was just the "normal" portrayal of minority groups, which we've become more sensitive to years later. – Barmar Mar 5 at 14:06
  • @nick012000 Disney hasn't provided a detailed explanation for the disclaimer, but it seems like it's similar to the reason why several Dr. Seuss books are being discontinued: stereotypical depictions of minorities (there's also a segment where Johnny Cash is singing in front of a Confederate flag). While such things offend modern sensibilities, there was no intent to demean at the time. They were just general parts of the show, not actions by specific characters, so it's hard to attribute evilness to any characters. – Barmar Mar 5 at 15:11
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Humanoid Muppets (Statler & Waldorf etc) are very similar to humans, but are different. The whole song "Man or Muppet" in The Muppets (2011) makes this very clear, with Walter and Gary debating which they are

"Am I a man or am I a muppet? If I'm a muppet oh I'm a very manly muppet. Am I a muppet or am I a man? If I'm a man that makes me a muppet of a man"

Both the lyrics and the accompanying video (with human Walter and muppet Gary) suggest it may be possible to cross over between them, but at the end they both decide to be what we have always seen them as (Walter a Muppet and Gary a Man) which means the song was more about living up to what they are than really offering the possibility of change.

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  • Aren't you contradicting yourself a bit with "human Walter and muppet Gary" vs "what we have always seen them as (Walter a Muppet and Gary a Man)"? – Egor Hans Mar 5 at 14:12
  • @EgorHans Not really. It's idiomatic English. – wizzwizz4 Mar 6 at 13:59
  • @wizzwizz4 What I mean is, these passages provide the exact opposite constellation of what each of them (Walter and Gary) is. During the first passage, Walter is the human and Gary is the muppet, while the second one turns this upside down. – Egor Hans Mar 8 at 10:43
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In some television shows, particularly from Japan, characters are portrayed as animals, but live normal human lives and the type of animal they are is never directly referenced within the fiction. The species of animal might hint at the type of person they are. Hello Kitty and Aggretsuko might be examples of this. These stories make sense if you assume the characters are actually human, and showing them as animals is an artistic flourish. (Similarly, to pick a random example, Barney Rubble from the Flintstones has eyes that are just black spots. We don't need to assume he is literally walking around with pure black eyes. It's just the way he's drawn.)

In other shows, for example Bojack Horseman, characters are portrayed as humanoid animals, and this is actually relevant to the stories being told. Fish people live underwater, bird people can fly, and the characters frequently mention what species they are.

The Muppets appear to be in the latter category. Kermit is from a swamp, people make bacon jokes around Miss Piggy, and so on.

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