13 June 2024

Jim Henson Idea Man explores the man behind the Muppets

| Jarryd Rowley
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Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog

Detailing the life of the world’s most famous puppeteer, Jim Henson Idea Man is an entertaining yet formulaic look into the man behind the Muppets. Photo: Disney+.

Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Bert and Ernie, The Goblin King, Big Bird and so many more of history’s greatest Muppets all have one thing in common.

They were all created by the brilliant mind of Jim Henson.

Much like Stan Lee was to comic books or Mr Rogers to children’s programming, Jim Henson was a pioneer of puppetry, so much so that he penned his own unique term for his larger-than-life creations and created a program to showcase them to the world.

While I have never been a true aficionado of the Muppets or Jim Henson, Disney+’s latest documentary Jim Henson Idea Man does a fantastic job of explaining the impact that the man behind the Muppets had on TV and film during the latter half of the 20th century.

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Directed by Hollywood legend Ron Howard, Jim Henson Idea Man is clearly a love letter to Henson and the many works he was a part of including his many children’s programs and movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

The film is quite standard in its storytelling. It follows Henson from his youth in the 1930s and 40s to his death in 1990. While I would have liked a bit more style around how his life story was told, it’s clear that Howard had a lot he wanted to tell and that the most constructive way to do it was chronologically.

His youth was interesting and it shows Henson’s growing appreciation for puppetry and learning his craft. I found his youth fascinating and the time spent there was definitely necessary but it was the moment that the film started touching on his time with Sesame Street and later the creation of The Muppet Show that I began to truly be invested.

As a 24-year-old man, I wasn’t familiar with Kermit making his debut on Sesame Street and the impact it had on children’s lives at the time. The film does a delicate job of demonstrating just how important it was to people at the time and how that directly correlated with Henson himself.

His transition away from the Muppets and into young adult works like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were also great. Celebrities like Frank Oz, who worked with Henson on many occasions and is better known as Yoda from Star Wars, as well as Jennifer Connelly, were a welcome sight.

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While the film is prominently about the cheery tone that Henson lived his life with, I would have liked to have seen the doco spend some time on the hardship or backlash that Henson copped throughout his career.

While doing some research after watching, I learnt that he drew much criticism for his attempts at getting characters like Kermit on Saturday Night Live and that initially, he waited almost a decade to get his own show. He was also a massive human rights advocate. All of these ideas were reduced to one or two lines or not mentioned at all.

I believe having that little bit of turmoil, which he managed to overcome in reality, would have shown that aside from Henson’s clear creative genius, he was also a man walking through life. This isn’t just a critique of this film but also of many newly released biopics and documentaries. Why are they scared of showing the harder side of their subjects’ lives?

Aside from this rather minimal complaint, I had a really good time learning about Jim Henson as a man, a puppeteer and a filmmaker. I have no doubt people who grew up with the Muppets and other Jim Henson creations will have a walk down memory lane while watching this and those who didn’t will definitely learn something new.

Jim Henson Idea Man is now streaming on Disney+.

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Have just finished viewing a doco on the London suburb of Camden, and Jim got a mention.

He had a muppet factory/workshop there. Opened not long after Lord Lou Grade backed Jim and his muppet crew, who couldn’t get much interest in the US, to come over to London and do the shows.
All the Muppet shows were filmed in London.

Did not realise that Frank Oz was in a Star Wars thing.
I knew he did Miss Piggy and Fozzie the bear.

It were great entertainment in its day. I guess it still might be.

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