Cult Hero of the Week: Jim Henson

Who doesn’t have childhood memories of Jim Henson?  These days, if you’re under 40, if had a TV growing up,  and if you actually watched anything as a child, chances are good you know and adored at least one of his creations.

I personally grew up on Sesame Street.  I adored Cookie Monster, the Count, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar… the whole crew.  And thirty two years later I started watching again, only to find so many of the same things I had loved as a child.  (Seriously- Gordon and Maria are both still there, as well as all of the puppets.)  And my kids love most of Sesame Street just as much as I did.  But more than that, it’s television that educates, that teaches kids about fairness, tolerance, and just generally that people are people, no matter what.  And it does it without being preachy or talking down to children, which is more than most TV shows can say, believe me.

I also remember watching the Muppets, and I remember certain Muppets scaring the living daylights out of me.  And now, years later, we own the DVDs, and can I just say that those shows were NOT written for children?  I mean, it’s downright tame, but still- some of the jokes are just… yeah.  Kids aren’t getting them.  And when that video of the Muppets doing Bohemian Rhapsody came out, both my sister and I showed it to our children, who all burst into screams and tears.  Either Queen or Animal scared them – we’re really not sure which.

While I think most people would first associate Jim Henson with Sesame Street, the Muppets, or Fraggle Rock (which I never watched), his puppets extended beyond children’s entertainment.  I don’t think I’m informing anyone at MRFH of anything when I mention he was one of the minds behind The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.  And I’m definitely not saying anything new when I say “Yoda.”  (And if I am, although Jim Henson is not the puppeteer or the voice of Yoda (Frank Oz is), he was heavily involved in the inception of the character.)

Henson’s death in 1990 was sudden and sad, and it’s one of the few celebrity deaths that ever truly affected me.  I mean, death is always sad, but this was one of the few where I felt like I lost a friend.  I think millions of people who’d grown up loving the characters and creations of Jim Henson felt the same way.

Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop continues.  Sesame Street episodes are still being put out, and the Muppets are advertising for Habitat for Humanity.  Farscape, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and Mirrormask have all worked closely to create beings that didn’t have to be human or computer animated.  And DVD and PBS continue to ensure that this generation of children will grow up loving the work of Jim Henson as much as we did.

Essential Jim Henson Viewing:

  • The Muppet Movie
  • The Great Muppet Caper
  • Muppets Take Manhatten
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Labyrinth
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Farscape


8 comments

  1. No-one, NO ONE can dis Jim Henson. I dare them. There is something for everyone in Henson’s back catalogue. As a kid I watched Sesame Street and Labyrinth, as an adult, Farscape – and Labyrinth.
    I was never a fan of Fraggle Rock either, I always turned it off when it came on, something about them put the fear in my little childish brain (maybe the same thing that put the fear of Animal into your kids, I was never really exposed to the Muppets until later, besides the not-that-crap cartoon, Muppet Babies, but that really didn’t count as a true Muppet Show :D)

    • Couldn’t agree with you more. Actually there’s a new segment on Sesame Street now that’s CGI and perkily positive and fairly condescending. Both of my kids HATE that segment. My 2-year-old will sing the song with it, and then wander off and play until that part’s over. My 4-year-old flat out leaves the room. But they think Oscar and Cookie Monster are hysterical. (Also, my 4-year-old has long since outgrown Elmo. He seems to appeal to the much younger set.)

      I could handle a little more old school, myself!

  2. Great article! I recently watched something on Netflix Instant Play called “The Storyteller”. It was done by Jim Henson’s group. It features a man and a muppet named Dog telling four Greek myths from inside a labyrinth. A good example of Henson creations not really “for children”. They’re pretty somber and of course, being Greek, these myths don’t end happily at all. I would have loved this as a child, though, because I was deeply into Greek myths. Has anyone else seen them? Great stuff.

    • For the record, the Greek Myths Storyteller is portrayed by Michael Gambon, who many of you might remember as Dumbledore in the post-Colombus Harry Potter films. The original Storyteller series featured traditional European folk tales and had John Hurt as the Storyteller.

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