The Fantastic Mind Behind The Muppets


One of the many exhibits on display from the mind of Jim Henson includes Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy in full bridal garb. (Laura Chieffo/The Observer; Sofia Alvarez/The Observer) 

Everyone looks back on his childhood and fondly remembers their favorite television shows. As a child you may have watched  “Sesame Street” or “Fraggle Rock,” and unless you’ve been living under “Fraggle Rock,” odds are you know who The Muppets are.

Thanks in great part to their newest film, released this past November, there has been a recent resurgence in Muppet madness.

If you want to know more about the man behind the puppets, now through March 4. The Museum of the Moving Image located in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, is hosting the exhibit “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World.” Although most commonly known for his quick witted, adult and child approved “Muppets,” the Jim Henson exhibit does not limit itself to only the famous aspects of Henson’s life.

The exhibit offers a rare insight into Henson’s mind, with numerous storyboards, drawings and ideas that never made it any farther than the paper they were initially scribbled onto.

These early pieces feature sketches of characters that could easily fit into Henson’s popular gang of puppets, some of whom visitors are privy to. Guests have the opportunity to gawk at authentic puppets including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, donning her bridal getup from the film “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” Rowlf and everyone’s favorite roommates Bert and Ernie, from “Sesame Street.”

This might sound like a child-centered adventure and without a doubt, the creators made sure to take into account Henson’s adoration for young and boundless minds. But the exhibit spends equal time on Henson’s less famous and more serious works as it does his television sensations.

One section of the exhibit is devoted to Henson’s more serious film-making endeavors.  There are clips and pictures from “Time Piece,” an experimental short film by Henson that received an Oscar nomination in 1966. Costumes from his 1982 film “The Dark Crystal,” a collaboration with close friend Frank Oz who also voiced Miss Piggy, are also on display. These pieces aren’t what Henson is most remembered for but nonetheless, his fascination with film as a medium and his dedication to creativity was a large part in his life.

The exhibit guides visitors through Henson’s life starting at his childhood, a time he cited as influential for his comedic development. It details his fascination with fairy tales and all things that involved imagination and make-believe. His interest in the abilities of the mind and his confidence in television began to intertwine when he started making short advertisements, a few of which are played on a loop at the exhibit.

One ad from the ’60’s tells the tale of Shrinkel and Stretchel, a laundy-care themed version of Hansel and Gretel. These advertisements were, more often than not, created with the help of puppets. The exhibit shows early drawings of some of the Muppets and characters from “Sesame Street” that initially showed up in these commercials.

Leading up to his success with “The Muppet Show” and the film franchise that followed, there were many times when Henson’s ideas were shot down. The exhibit features a wall of sketches and ideas that never turned into anything more than just that.

One of these failed prospects was a live Broadway-style Muppet show at Lincoln Center, however things never came together and the show was not produced.

If nothing else, these unsuccessful dreams serve to highlight Henson’s true determination to create something special to share. Henson said, “My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.” Judging by the happiness that his creations are still providing nearly 50 years after he first thought them up, it’s safe to say that Henson left his mark by making our world a little more fantastic.