For me Jim Henson is one of the most amazing men to ever walk this earth. An avant-guard film maker constantly experimenting with ideas for many years gave me three shows from my childhood that I loved, and still do. The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street were all wonderful creations that came from the world of Henson – but it’s Kermit and co that hold a special place in my heart.
It’s twenty-three years since the genius left us, which is hard to believe as it feels in some ways that he never went away – that’s one of the joys of creating lasting memories on film and TV, you never die “just survive constant action replay” as Del Amitri once put it. Along with The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Farscape his legacy still lives on today. Now an authorised biography of the man has been released with permission from his family and Brian Jay Joes tells the story of a man who some called a hippy and many more called a teacher.
What Henson and his then wife Jane did was to build up a group of misfit characters in a show called Sam and Friends in the late 1950s which was the precursor to what we now know as the Muppets. In the 70s The Muppets started to take shape and the rest as they say is history. Fraggle Rock was a favourite of mine and in the 80s I loved the combination of story and song. I had the soundtrack to both the Muppets and Fraggle rock and have since downloaded both again from iTunes to share with my own kids.
I think it must be a great thing to be able to bring pure uncynical joy to people in the way they did. The Muppets have always had a heart as big as Sweetums and are never afraid to show it, I’m not embarrassed to say I’ve often had a wee tear in my eye at Muppet movies. Thankfully when Disney and Jason Segel didn’t try to alter or modernise the brand when they made the most recent film in 2011. Along with all the rest of the adults in the room there was a moment of genuine happiness when Kermit returned to the big screen in silhouette at the gates to his house; this is where they belong. There were also several nods to the past and you could hear the audible intake of breath from adults in the room when the picture of Kermit and Jim appeared as grown men tried not to cry in front of their kids.
A great script and songs combined with some of the most memorable cloth characters like Fozzie, Gonzo and Animal has put the Muppets back where they belong – in the hearts and minds of a new generation of kids. Having grown up with them on TV and watched all the movies several times, I’m glad I can now share that joy with my own kids. The combination of heart and humour is a rare thing these days, too often there is an edge or a tongue-in-cheek approach to these types of films, but the Muppets are timeless and came back into our lives like they’d never been away. The new film “The Muppets…Again” was made this year in London with Ricky Gervais as the human co-star an is due to be released next year.
I don’t mind admitting as a fifteen year old lad I found Jim’s death hit me like it was a personal bereavement – but that’s what happens when someone who has been part of your life leaves you. Even now as I watch clips on YouTube of his memorial and the Muppet’s own tribute to their “Dad” it brings a tear, because he was a one off and in modern TV you’d never get that innovation or chutzpah to do what he did.
Here’s a wee clip from the Muppets Tribute show from 1990 and if you don’t have a little sniff and a tear when the Muppets and all their friends realise that Jim has died, you will never have a heart like my hero Jim.