The attraction—which opened as Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D on May 16, 1991 at Disney's Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios)—incorporates the 3D film in conjunction with in-theater 4D effects, such as Audio-Animatronics, lighting, projections, smoke, and a live full-bodied performer. Muppet*Vision 3D had a subsequent incarnation open at Disney California Adventure on February 8, 2001.
The show is a 3D film featuring Jim Henson's Muppets. Due to the use of Audio-Animatronics, a live full-bodied Muppet and other similar effects, the show is sometimes referred to as "Muppet*Vision 4D" (which was used in The Walt Disney World Explorer application, displayed as "Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D 4D" with a slanted red strikethrough on "3D"). It was directed by Jim Henson and written by Bill Prady. The show was one of the final Muppets projects with the involvement of Henson, as well veteran Muppet performer Richard Hunt and one of the last times they performed their characters. Henson died in 1990, before production of the film was completed, and Hunt died in 1992.
Before guests are seated in the theater where the film is shown, they go through the queue, which winds through "Muppet Labs", home of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. The audience passes several office doors, all featuring outlandish job descriptions and spoof movie posters featuring Muppets. Guests then enter a large room filled with Muppet "props" and boxes with comical and humorous labels. Above guests' heads are sets of three television monitors, where the pre-show featuring several Muppets is shown.
The audience is repeatedly reminded to take a pair of 3D glasses from several containers around the room before entering the theater, which is modeled after the theater depicted on The Muppet Show. Muppet*Vision 3D, along with Captain EO, is one of two Disney 3D attractions currently playing which refer to the glasses "3D Glasses" (It's Tough to Be a Bug! utilizes "Bug Eyes", Star Tours: The Adventures Continue refers to them as "Flight Glasses", Toy Story Midway Mania! calls them "3D Game Glasses", and Mickey's PhilharMagic calls them "Opera Glasses"). However, the glasses are sometimes referred to as "3D Safety Goggles", foreshadowing the "dangerous" experiments guests will be visiting.
At Disney California Adventure, the queue is different in that it features a cast member at the turnstile handing out the glasses individually and the "hallway" scene from the Disney's Hollywood Studios queue is replaced with a "courtyard" filled with various props. The queue winds around a fake "set", blending in with the rest of the Hollywood Land district. Guests also see half of a motorbike protruding from the wall above, with a hole in the shape of Gonzo. The pre-show room there includes a scrolling LED monitor known as The Official Time Clock which displays various messages and jokes (including references to Elvis and The Mickey Mouse Club) while counting down to showtime.
In the spring of 2008, the queue was replaced with an eating area for the Award Weiners restaurant in order to provide more seating for it. The original "Disaster Effects" storage area still remains, but many of the spoof movie posters were removed, now in their place are real movie posters promoting current films from Walt Disney Studios. Many of the original props from the queue were moved to the post-show area outside the exit doors.
Muppet-Vision 3D introduces Waldo C. Graphic, the world's first computer-generated Muppet, who actually originated in The Jim Henson Hour'sMuppeTelevision segments. Waldo is "created" by Bunsen and Beaker during a demonstration of three-dimensional imagery, but proves uncontrollable and wreaks havoc throughout the remainder of the film, especially when the ending patriotic number by Sam the Eagle is reduced to shambles.
Aside from the Muppets on-screen, there are also a number of in-theater Muppets, mostly animatronic, that interact with the show. Statler and Waldorf heckle the show from their traditional balcony, an orchestra of penguins rises into view from the orchestra pit to underscore the show and the the Swedish Chef "operates" the film projector from the booth above and behind the audience. Bean Bunny leaves the film at one point after being blamed for ruining several scenes (mainly Miss Piggy's musical number) in his attempt to help, and Sweetums, who is a live full-bodied Muppet, comes out into the audience to search for him after having already done so on the screen and when he came to put out a fire in the orchestra pit caused by Waldo.
At one point in the show, there appears to be computerized bubbles blown, although, if the glasses are removed, there are real soap bubbles. At the end of the show, the Swedish Chef tries to destroy the now out-of-control Waldo, who has caused a fire to break out in the orchestra pit, (resulting in Sweetums dumping a bucket of water on the penguins, who retaliated by firing a cannon that destroyed the film, as Waldo himself states) and is all alone on a blank screen, by firing a gun at him. After missing several times (shooting holes in the screen and even the theater wall in the process), the Chef resorts to using a largeer cannon. This "blows-up" the theater, leaving a (projected) hole in the main screen, as well as "revealing" some bricks and sheet rock throughout the main theater.