WiCM Meets The Muppets

October 14, 2011

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World at the Museum of the Moving Image

This week’s event took WiCM members to Astoria, Queens, to visit to the Museum of the Moving Image’s Jim Henson exhibit. With its presentation of the man’s ads, short films, character designs, doodles, films, and actual Muppets, the exhibit displays the work of a true visionary.

Jim Henson’s work appealed to the kid in all of us—whether we first experienced it as children or as adults (I just saw Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas for the first time this week!). And his tonal breadth ranged from the somewhat dark to the refreshingly silly.

Don’t show fear. They feed on fear.

The exhibit shows the marks of an extraordinary mind; Henson was so boundlessly creative but also careful to plant logic in his creations. I could cite a number of examples of this balance, but I’ll use Fraggle Rock as particularly clear evidence.

I didn’t have cable as a kid (or now, now that I think about it…), but I sneaked a few peaks at Fraggle Rock at my dough-faced friend Ronnie’s house. In addition to having a genuinely impressive Star Wars toy collection, Ronnie also enjoyed a much broader menu of TV channels. I remember being absolutely captivated by Fraggle Rock. The show featured multiple communities of creatures, each fitted into an interdependent ecosystem. It was such a beautifully natural expression of balance. And there was no shortage of Henson-style eye-candy or fun. This show was a masterpiece, in no small part due to its ability to teach important lessons so organically.

“Yeah…David…it’s about your, um, your costume. More the lower part than the upper part. See the thing is, Mr. Henson wanted Labyrinth to be a kids’ movie…”

And that’s what I really love about Jim Henson and his all-star team. They made big ideas and concepts accessible.  Themes like love, friendship, faith in others, respect, and harmony—all immensely complicated ideas when we make them that way—are wonderfully simple in Henson’s hands. And it’s easy to celebrate them when they’re delivered via floppy, colorful, and endearing characters. By teaching us in such an engaging way, pioneers like Jim Henson and his gang make it easy to put faith in the power of storytelling.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out this exhibit at once. It’s been extended through March 4, 2012, but I’d make firm plans to go check it out. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it. It’s so good.

In the meantime, get thee to Youtube, where you can find plenty of Henson’s doings (the Muppets, The Dark Crystal, the ‘Rock, etc.). I’ll leave you with a nice little ditty, care of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band.


Hard to believe he’s just felt and glue, right?

PS: Here’s a blurb about the exhibit, if you have trust problems and still need convincing:

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World celebrates the internationally known creative genius Jim Henson, whose work encompassed film, television, and puppetry. The exhibition features over 120 artifacts, including drawings, storyboards, and props, all of which illustrate Henson’s boundless creativity and innumerable accomplishments.

Fifteen iconic puppets, including Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, and Bert and Ernie, are on view, along with photographs of Henson and his collaborators at work and excerpts from his early projects and experimental films. The exhibition spans Henson’s entire career, with drawings, cartoons, and posters produced during his college years in the late 1950s and objects related to the inspired imaginary world of his popular 1982 fantasy film, The Dark Crystal. The exhibition features artifacts from Henson’s best-known projects, The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie and its sequels, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street, in addition to materials from Sam and Friends, an early show he created in the 1950s, and his pioneering television commercial work in the 1960s.