Muppet creator, Jim Henson, is probably best known as an innovative and highly creative puppeteer. But he was also the force behind several great works of speculative fiction on film including educational and entertaining shows for children, comic retellings of classic fairytales, fantasy movies and television, and a satirical sitcom. There are two things that strike me about Jim Henson’s work. The first is that much of it was truly thought provoking and made insightful observations about humanity. The second is that Jim Henson’s fictional creatures felt “real.” Sure, they were fantasy creatures often in a fantasy setting and you could see that they were puppets but they had intellect, emotion, and often a surprising amount of personality, considering the fact that they were, after all, puppets. The works that I think best exemplify what I mean by this are below.
The Dark Crystal (movie, 1982) – This was the first movie I ever went to the theater to see twice. The detail of the completely fantasy world being portrayed was incredible.
Fraggle Rock (television series, 1983-1987) – I loved the music in these as well as the contrast between the fun-loving Fraggles and the hard-working Doozers. Although the show was targeted for children, it often dealt with important and fundamental issues.
Labyrinth (movie, 1986) – This is a great happy ending fairytale. The interaction between the live actors and the wonderful puppet characters is seamless and believable.
The Storyteller (television series, 1987) – This was another wonderful retelling of fairytales. The thing that sets The Storyteller apart though was that it took a step back and, through its narrator, emphasized how important, even essential such stories are for people and have, throughout history, helped to define what it is that makes us human.
Dinosaurs (television series, 1991-1993) Although this was produced after Jim Henson’s death, it was based on one of his ideas. The series was hysterically satirical and frequently dealt with serious and timely issues.