Jim Henson Idea Man

jim Henson Idea Man
jim Henson Idea Man
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Muppets have a special place in everyone’s heart. It is an absolute fact in this world, for anyone who has a working pulse and a healthy joy gland. Consequently, therefore, everyone loves the godlike creator/inventor/father figure of Muppet project Jim Henson whose ensemble of strange, funny puppets made of felt became one of the most loved crews in film and TV since seven decades ago. We are talking about Jim Henson Idea Man movie here.

This is an endearing biographic movie about Jim Henson as delightful and warm as the man himself but not exactly thought-provoking or too much questioning. This is from director Ron Howard who these days can be called more documentarist than anything else (in the last decade he’s made almost as many documentary films as fiction ones). However, in this piece Ron Howard gives it some zingy visual interest like animated moments – there is a point where one sees Henson’s private sketches come to life – and there are background images that nod towards The Cube (1969), an experimental short by Henson on which it seems to be based. Beyond that, though, it follows a fairly conventional cradle-to-grave, greatest-hits rundown of Henson’s life and times.

This makes sense given how pure-hearted and personable its subject matter typically is. Archival footage and interviews with talking heads depict Henson as a quiet cheerful guy who always had “superhuman drive”, boundless creativity bursting inside him and introvertedness indicating his “rich inner life”, according to Frank Oz another close associate.

Much of what we see here will already be known by Muppet obsessives particularly since many interview sources come from earlier docs. But there’s much to enjoy including wonderful surreal appearance on unaired talk-show pilot The Orson Welles Show when Kermit sat beside Fozzie while legendary director Citizen Kane addressed the audience very seriously: “We may neglect to notice that Muppetry is also an art.”

The truly fun stuff is seeing that art evolve, from scrappy handmade bits of felt — Kermit was originally made from Henson’s mother’s coat; Rowlf was a basketball cut in half — to the highly advanced radio-controlled animatronics on Labyrinth. It’s also interesting to observe the mood changing: early Muppets were surprisingly violent (in a 1960s meat commercial, one Muppet shoots another in the head for being a vegetarian), while the Muppets’ most successful venture would be the long-running children’s show Sesame Street. (That show is never actually introduced by name in this film — so ubiquitous and well-known in the US, it presumably needs no introduction.)

In this regard there are parts of Henson that perhaps are neglected since these come across as rushed to fit several decades into two hours. The part about his wife and sometime creative partner Jane Henson may be seen as unfair by some; at one point, she can be heard on old footage describing how “Jim felt that I was no longer dependable” during a pregnancy with what sounds like her having been eased out of the picture. However, in response, this documentary admits that he had ‘traditional expectations’ about marriage according to one of his daughters leading to their eventual separation. But their children – nearly all of whom went into the family business – speak fondly here of both parents, and it is clear theirs was a loving household.

The sensation of love and elation, which is inherent in the work and life of Henson, comfortably permeates Howard’s film thereby almost reproducing “the culture of loving chaos” (as stated by Frank Oz) promoted by Henson himself. Big Bird singing ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ at Henson’s funeral (he died in 1990 aged just 53), who can be called a little crazy, will make you cry with happiness if you are alive—something only Muppets could do.

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