Jim Henson – The Biography

I enjoy puppetry quite a bit. I enjoy reading books too. When you combine these two interests of mine…. OH BOY!
Terrence Burke reading "Jim Henson - The Biography"
I have recently acquired an advance copy of Jim Henson – The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. Last night I finished chapter one and I am happy to say that this book will be on the wishlist of many puppeteers and fans of Henson’s work.
Jones interviewed many of the famous puppeteer’s family, associates, and friends to provide the reader with over 400 pages to tell the story of Jim Henson’s life.
I promise to share more about this book with you soon, there’s a book waiting for me to read!

What have they done to my Muppets, Ma?

I knew that the day would come.  I had an idea what to expect.  I wish it was better, but it wasn’t.  What am I talking about?  Disney’s “The Muppets” (2011) of course.

“I’m not crazy about it.” – Frank Oz on “The Muppets” (2011) source

Wait!  Stop press!  I am a puppeteer.  I consider Jim Henson and fellow puppeteers some of the people  who inspired me to become a puppeteer.  Sadly most of those people have either passed away, or choose not to perform the puppet characters that they helped create.  Of course the puppet people who may read this know where I am leading with this, but for those of you new to The Muppets I’ll bring you up to speed.  I am referring to Frank Oz, the original puppeteer of Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear.  When I read that he felt that the script  didn’t respect the characters I was worried.  I am okay with new puppeteers performing The Muppets, it’s the only way to keep them alive for new audiences, what worried me the most is that the scriptwriter would not understand what makes The Muppets, “The Muppets”.  Sadly I was right about this.

Jason Segal says he is a HUGE fan of The Muppets.  He loved watching them as a child.  Yet does being a high profile fan qualify him to relaunch a beloved group of characters that have been most often considered family entertainment?  No! No! No!  Sure he has marquee value, but little else when it comes to The Muppets.  Two examples in the film, that he wrote and starred in, are the scene where The Muppets find Animal trying  to control his anger.

This scene really disturbed me.  I nearly stopped the DVD that we borrowed from our public library (sorry Disney).  If Mr. Segal considers this to be family entertainment, I pity his children -if he ever becomes a parent.  Which makes me wonder, how can someone write a film (that is marketed to families and children) who is not a parent himself?  I have given up on Disney as a producer of quality family entertainment, they haven’t produced any in decades (that includes “Lion King” which they stole from Tezuka Productions).  The other scene that stood out as an example of Segal’s lowest common denominator humor is the scene that Fozzie Bear stoops to wearing farting shoes to get a laugh.  Really?  The Muppets were smarter than that.  Even my five and a half year old son can come up with a funnier bit with very little effort.

As the DVD played in our living room, with an audience ranging in age from five and a half to almost fourty-eight, we began to let our selves become distracted from the film that we had been looking forward to watching as a family.  Tiernan looked at his train magazine, Eleanor and Lara continued to watch the movie… I think.  I am not certain of this because I fell asleep.  The Muppets new movie failed to keep my attention.

Perhaps I will watch this film again many years from now and find gold nuggets of Muppet-fun hidden in the Disney-sludge.  My wife gave me her opinion of the film as we put away the popcorn bowls, she felt that they looked like Muppets but lacked the soul that made them so appealing years ago.  Maybe the next Muppets film will capture the style of humor that made the characters so memorable.  I suggest that Disney hire Roger Langridge to write the script.  His Muppets comic books are excellent.  He understands Muppet-style humor.

I rate this film a D for Disney.

Thinking about Jim Henson today

Today puppeteer Jim Henson would have turned 75 years old.  I wonder if he would still perform Kermit the Frog if he were still with us.  My guess is that he would, since it seemed to me that he truly enjoyed performing the character.

Kermit and Jim Henson statue at the University of Maryland

You can add me to the long list of puppeteers who will tell you that Jim Henson, and his work with his puppet troupe The Muppets, are a major influence in their puppetry.  I imagine that many of us grew up watching him perform Kermit, Ernie, Rowlf, Doctor Teeth, and The Swedish Chef on television.

One of my attractions to Jim Henson’s work, is that he created real characters with his puppets.  Surely this was not done single-handedly.  Jim Henson had a great team of puppeteers, writers, and production people that made his puppets come alive on our TV screens.  This creation of believable puppet characters is what I try to accomplish with my little puppet troupe.

Cyril looks at the Kermit statue.

One other thought that came to me this morning, as my seven year old daughter enjoyed a few episodes of “Muppet Babies” between bites of Cheerios, would Jim Henson continue to create programming for families and young children?  What would his work look like in the 21st century?  Would he continue to work with felt & foam, or pioneer with computer generated “puppets”?  We can only speculate.

I will continue to wear the Henson influence on my sleeve by creating and performing puppet characters that I hope that children enjoy.

Cyril and Terrence at the Jim Henson statue, University of Maryland. May 2011


Thank you Jim, and Happy Birthday!