It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to talk about Jim Henson on the Gemr Blog tonight!
With The Muppet Movie hitting its 40th anniversary, we feel like it’s a good time to talk about Jim Henson and his incredible puppets. Even if you’re living under a rock and don’t know much about the muppets, we can guarantee you know his work. From Kermit to Big Bird, Jim Henson left a lasting impression on all of us. He has touched so many of us through the years. If you loved Henson’s shows or his stand-alone movies, you probably still miss him as we do. He changed the world with his work and gave us hope for the future.
Sesame Street was born in a time when there wasn’t a lot of thought put into children’s television. It was designed to be educational over purely entertaining. The show highlighted a multicultural neighborhood in hopes of bringing tolerance and acceptance. Throughout its run, the show tackled racism, highlighted children with Down syndrome, reduced the stigma of breastfeeding, and so many other memorable moments — and that’s just during Henson’s run! Things haven’t changed on Sesame Street — or should we say they have, but for the better.
To this day, Sesame Street continues to inspire kids and teach them valuable lessons. In the years following Henson’s death, the team has continued to try and guide the children who watch it. In recent years, they introduced an autistic girl named Julia to help children learn how to interact with their peers and reduce stigma. The show also introduced Alix, who has a parent in prison, to help reduce the stigma of children in this situation. In South Africa, they introduced Kami, who is HIV positive — where the disease is an epidemic. He helps to reduce the stigma and provides information.
Jim Henson helped to set a culture that doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects — a culture that believes children can understand a heck of a lot more than we give them credit for. With the help of his team, he tried to help make the next generation more tolerant and understanding than the one before them. While the show has moved from PBS to HBO, it still broadcasts returns of the new episodes on PBS to honor its roots. The effort to better children continues today in the spirit of Jim Henson, and we hope it does for years to come.
The most iconic of Jim Henson’s creations are, of course, The Muppets. The Muppet Show was a cultural phenomenon that spanned decades. The show was an endearing take on the typical variety show and was often co-hosted by celebrities. It featured skits, musical numbers, interviews, and anything else they wanted to throw in. The important part was that it made people laugh — enough that they’ve made ten movies starring the puppet cast!
The first of those movies is arguably one of the best. The Muppet Movie, as we mentioned, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year! The film focused on how The Muppet Show came to be, in a strangely meta way. The road trip Kermit takes as he gathers acts for his show is still heartwarming and absolutely worth rewatching. The practical effects are even talked about today — especially the scene with Kermit riding a bicycle. We’re sure we could look up how it was done, but we don’t want to ruin the magic for ourselves. It was so popular, it was rehashed in The Great Muppet Caper — and they added so many more tricks.
The Muppet Movie also brought us the iconic song “Rainbow Connection,” which has been covered so many times throughout the years we can’t even begin to count them. “Moving Right Along” gave us a road trip tune like no other (and an endless stream of visual gags). And it never slowed down. There were so many great gags and wonderful moments.
The rest of the Muppet movies are just as iconic, from Muppets From Space — where they finally reveal what the heck Gonzo is, or Muppets Treasure Island. Then there’s A Muppet Christmas Carol — which we think is one of the best versions of the classic story out there. Sure, the musical numbers aren’t in the original — but the feeling of the book is perfectly captured. Every single Muppet movie carries the sentiment of togetherness and friendship, which endures through to today.
Now Disney carries on the mantle of The Muppets without Henson. One of his last works was to help them create Muppet*Vision3D — a ride that still remains open today. They relaunched the show from 2015 – 2016, after the success of The Muppets in 2011. While the show was canceled, they went on to make one more movie, The Muppets Most Wanted. Yet, there is hope for the future of The Muppets. This iconic cast won’t disappear, don’t worry. Disney plans to relaunch the show again for their streaming service Disney+.
The Dark Crystal
While Sesame Street and The Muppets are the most well-known works of Jim Henson, they aren’t his only ones. His mind was always working, and he invented worlds that were completely unique unto themselves. His first was The Dark Crystal — the fantasy epic that is considered the first live-action film to feature no humans. The story centers on a world divided, sitting on the precipice of ruin, and the Gelflings, two creatures who seek to save it.
The story was strange and darker than Jim Henson’s usual fare. Unfortunately, this put parents off. They expected a fun romp from Henson, not a dark fantasy. Parents were nervous about taking their kids to see a movie which pretty openly discusses genocide, death, and enslavement. Apparently, they hadn’t been paying close attention to Disney — many of their early titles were equally dark. Nervous parents didn’t stop the fantastic world of
After releasing on home video, it developed a cult following. The Dark Crystal is so well loved that in August 2019, Netflix will release a prequel series to explain what happened to the Gelflings. We don’t expect The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance to be happy, we know it will end in the loss of the Gelfling race. But its first trailer is full of the same dreamlike quality that made the original so unique. The 10 episode series is utilizing Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and the original concept artist Brian Froud to capture the same feelings as Jim Henson’s original. We can’t wait to see where this series takes the world of
Labyrinth is one of those movies you either loved or hated. There is basically no in between. It was a surreal story about a girl who must rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King by traversing his ever-changing Labyrinth. It’s a coming of age story and one about being thankful for what you have. Once again, the story is darker than much of Jim Henson’s work, but has more humor than The Dark Crystal did. Sarah is a sympathetic heroine, though somewhat immature. Her growth through the movie, while she meets and joins forces with new friends (who all happen to be puppets), is what makes the tale, while set in a fantasy world, feel grounded.
One of the most memorable characters (for most) is David Bowie, who plays Jareth, the Goblin King. He is remembered mostly for his tight spandex outfits and giant hair — as well as introducing the world to contact juggling. He is the antagonist of the film and lends his voice to the movie’s soundtrack. Bowie’s music is a large part of what makes this movie what it is. From his ever-shifting Labyrinth to his hapless subjects, the Goblin King changes his world for Sarah — but in doing so, makes her realize that she liked the world the way it was.
Sadly, Labyrinth wasn’t well received when it was released. It tanked at the box office and that crushed Henson. He had put his heart into the film, and the public ignored it. He never went back to ambitious projects like Labyrinth again. It was so quickly forgotten that when Hoggle — at the time the most complicated puppet ever made — went missing, no one went looking for it. It wound up rotting in a suitcase for years until it was reclaimed and restored by an abandoned luggage museum.
We’re glad to say that, over time, opinions changed. Labyrinth, like The Dark Crystal before it, became a cult classic. There are huge communities who love the quirky film. While it might not have been the smash hit Jim Henson wanted, it is a beloved film that will be played by fans for the rest of time. We’ve heard there is a series set in the world of Labyrinth in production, but we don’t know enough yet to speculate past that.
Unlike Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock was made for fun. While there were lessons to be learned, mostly the show was about the Fraggles having fun, exploring, and spending time in the cave system where they make their home. It was lighthearted and focused primarily on the puppets (with some minor interaction with humans).
Henson also was the driving force behind Frank Oz’s casting as Yoda. Lucas brought him on to help with the puppet — and Henson encouraged Lucas to cast Oz. The fit was perfect, and Yoda has become one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture. He’s also one of the most quoted.
Henson also created The Muppet Babies animated show, which was fun but often forgotten. The babies were cute, but it ignored all established Muppet canon (not that it really matters). Recently Disney Junior launched a CGI reboot of the show. It’s aimed, as you might expect, at toddlers. If you have intense nostalgia for the animated series, this might scratch the itch. Mostly, seeing these big headed baby Muppets in 3D makes us uncomfortable.
Finally, he delved into a darker mythology-driven show called The Storyteller, that allowed him to express some of his darker concepts. The show focused on lesser-known folktales and, like many of his shows, it employed a combination of puppets and humans. Despite the more mature themes, the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program. In February of 2019, it was announced that it would get a reboot with Neil Gaiman at the helm and using Jim Henson’s Creature Shop for the monsters. We highly recommend you check out the original before the new one arrives.
Jim Henson’s Impact
Over the years, Jim Henson’s work has continued to be replayed, from Muppet*Vision3D at Disney to Sesame Street’s reruns. His early loss due to complications from meningitis is heartbreaking. We can only imagine what incredible works he might have produced.
While we miss him, the worlds he’s made live on. Sesame Street continues to teach children how to be better than those who came before them. The Muppets still make us laugh, no matter how many times we rewatch the movies, and Disney is going to bring them back once more.
The Jim Henson Foundation still provides funds to encourage American puppetry. He did not want the art to be lost. Thanks to his work — and the continued work of his family — it never will. While he is greatly missed, he will continue to inspire new creators to embrace the incredible art of puppetry. We can only hope that the new Dark Crystal miniseries and the eventual Labyrinth series will live up to their creator’s vision.
For now, we’re going to wish on the morning star (and we hope you’ll choose to believe it), that the fantastic work of Jim Henson carries on through his studio. We hope that one day soon, someone will be so inspired by his art that we’ll get many more adventures into a world of monsters.