Thursday, June 6, 2024

Doc Watch: Jim Henson - Idea Man (2024)

Watched:  06/05/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  First
Director:  Ron Howard
Selection:  Jamie

I watched The Muppet Show as a kid, knowing who maybe a 1/5th of the guests were.  I saw The Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, Muppets Take ManhattanDark Crystal and Labyrinth in the theater.  I even remember as a kid wondering how Jim Henson and Frank Oz found the time - "how do they find time to do these things?"   Later, I watched The Storyteller and Jim Henson Hour - which were both given terrible timeslots (Fridays!), if memory serves.

And then one morning I woke up and someone in my house told me Jim Henson was dead.  It's one of my first moments of being shocked by a celebrity death.  It's not wrong to think of Henson in the same mold as Walt Disney, and I understand how the world reeled from his abrupt departure.  

The Henson family has never been terribly secretive, and I've read articles over the years, seen exhibits at the Smithsonian, etc...  so I'd pieced together a rough notion of Henson's life, but it really started with a puppet on one hand.  

It turns out Ron Howard, who directed this film, has a good sense for documentary.  If the movie is a bit of pro-Henson propaganda, there's literally nothing wrong with that.  If Jim Henson had a human side which was imperfect, fine.  The movie does try to give us an idea of some of his blindspots and foibles, courtesy his family and co-workers.  But this film is about how he got to where he was, what his work was like - and how it was done.  And, of course, the impact, which is hard to measure.

With so much time since Henson's death, which was in May of 1990, it's amazing to see so many of his collaborators able to come speak about him, from Muppet costumers to Jennifer Connolly.  And to be taken on the journey from Missouri to DC to London, via clips and video of various efforts.  

I'm not sure there's a ton here for the person who is deeply into The Muppets and appreciates them on a much deeper level than I do, but it's a terrific document.  And for folks who only have heard the name Henson, and did not know him as a friendly face on talk shows or media presence that was generally well-liked across the board - this is a great way to know the man.  And, you'll get a great experience seeing Henson's material all in one place, from his first work on DC to his funeral, which he choreographed.

It's a wonder seeing the Henson kids, now all older than their dad when he passed.  And to hear them speak about him lovingly, but honestly - and I think it's in this realm that I felt Howard's hand.  He knows how to craft the image on a genuine hero.

The documentary is currently available on Disney+.


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