By Patrick Gomez
May 17, 2019 at 02:55 PM EDT

The Muppet Babies aren’t just 2D anymore.

What started as a cellphone video has transformed into a digital series featuring Disney Junior’s Muppet Babies.

The new Muppet Babies made their animated debut early last year, and now — ahead of the show’s upcoming second season — they’ve been crafted as actual Muppets for a series of shorts that will launch every Friday beginning today through Aug. 1 on Disney Junior’s YouTube page.

Here, executive producer Tom Warburton explains how this new version of the classic cartoon came to be.

Executive producer Tom Warburton with the plush new Muppet Babies
Disney Junior

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did this idea come from?
TOM WARBURTON: Well, there’s always a little gap in between seasons and I thought, “How can we do something fun with the Muppets, with the Muppet Babies in between seasons while kids are waiting for the new episodes?” And I thought, “What if we…” Of course, I’ve always wanted have real Muppets with these characters, so I came up with this idea of them interacting with real kids and I talked to Matt Danner, my co-producer and supervising director, and he’s also the voice of Kermit. I said, “What if we did this?” And he has an adult Kermit puppet sitting on his shelf. So we got the five-year-old niece of one of the production assistant and we went to the park and just shot on my iPhone a little skit of going like, “Hey, I saw you go down the slide. I really looks fun, but I’m scared. Can you show me how?” And the girl goes down the slide and then Kermit goes down the slide. It’s down and dirty. We shot it in half an hour, and then I went to Disney and showed it to them and they were like, “This is great. We have to do this.” Then we had to go through the process of budgeting and scheduling and, on top of all the production we’re already making. And we did it. It was a 3-day shoot and every day my heart was just exploding with how cool it was to see the Muppeteers work with our characters. This has been a dream come true.

The new Muppets look so much like the animated versions of the characters.
From the beginning [of the new animated series,] we worked hard to make the characters look like real Muppets. You feel like you can reach in and touch the little tennis ball texture that Kermit has. Animal, you can almost feel how fluffy he is and you just want to, like, rub his ears. There’s something really tactile about that and I think for viewers it really draws you into the show.

What has been the most rewarding fan reaction to the show?
I think, for me, it’s parents enjoying it too. I see so many tweets and messages from people saying, like, “My kid is in his bed and I’m still up watching the Muppet Babies.” And that’s a testament to the stories we’re telling. We’re trying to tell these stories that aren’t just for a preschool audience, they’re for everyone. A lot of preschool TV, for some parents, it serves as a babysitter. “I’m going to put you in front of this show while I go put this load of laundry in.” And we want the parents to say, “I want to watch this with you, so I’ll do the laundry later.” And that seems to be really happening and that’s a thrill to see their parents enjoy this just as much as their kids.

What can you tease about season 2?
As new footage comes in and the new stories come in, we’re seeing how much more fun it is than season 1 — and season 1 was a ton of fun! We’ve got lots more episodes coming out with lots of new imagination sequences that take us to new places. I can’t tell you that much or the PR people will yell at me. Disney has a lot of cool promotions and product coming out. We saw a little dancing and singing Piggy recently that came out, which is real. I have it on my desk and it just makes me smile every time I see it. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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