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Tag Archive: Jim Henson


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which she integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

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Gelfling.  Skeksis.  Mystic.  Podling.

As we continue our celebration of the films of the summer of 1982, who could forget the fantasy that maintained its status as the most beloved of fantasy film creations for decades to come: Frank Oz and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  Thirty-five years later fans can return again to the world of Thra as an all-new adventure is coming your way: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.  The 10-episode fantasy adventure series, available exclusively on Netflix, is a prequel that takes place many years before the events of the original film.  The series is being filmed in the U.K. and will star an ensemble of fantastical, state-of-the-art creatures created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, conceptual designer for The Dark Crystal Brian Froud, and possibly by you.

When three young Gelfling discover the horrifying secret behind the Skeksis’ power, they set out on an epic journey to ignite the fires of rebellion and save their world.  This brief description and an introductory video (below), is all that has been released so far for the new series–until this month’s contest.

Contestants are asked to draw, by hand or digitally, an original creature concept for the world of The Dark Crystal and submit their designs online.  The winner will be awarded $500 and the winning concept design will be crafted and built by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to make a possible cameo appearance in the upcoming series.  This small, woodland creature must be a brand new concept – it cannot be a variation of an existing species from the original film.  All ideas are welcome, as long as they feel true to the world of The Dark Crystal, without being a variation of an existing Brian Froud drawing.  Contestants should also provide a paragraph of 50–100 words about the creature, including its name and back story.

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i-am-jim-henson

Life’s like a movie… write your own ending… keep believing… keep pretending…

Throughout the past year Brad Meltzer, noted fiction and non-fiction author and television personality (and DC Comics writer for the Identity Crisis and Green Arrow series) joined former Marvel Comics artist Christopher Eliopoulos to produce the Ordinary People Change the World series of books for young readers from Dial/Penguin/Random House.  Each of these could–or should–be your child, your nephew, niece, grandchild, or other young friend’s first book.  Back in September we previewed the most recent books in the series here at borg.com, featuring Dr. Jane Goodall and President George Washington.  This month Meltzer and Eliopoulos are releasing their latest inspirational and educational book for kids, I am Jim Henson.

What is incredible about this book in the series is Eliopoulos’s success in seemingly including every Muppet you can think of one way or another, all his fuzzy and beloved characters from both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.  From Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy to Yoda and the movies Henson created, details of Henson’s life that will interest his fans are all here.  Meltzer, writing in first person as Henson, recreates Henson’s influences and youth.  Most importantly, Henson’s love of magic, imagination, and learning, and characters who taught everyone about laughter and kindness, will inspire new generations to look at his works again, and maybe even create their own.

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Meltzer and Eliopoulos know Henson’s characters like fans do–some of the most memorable lines and images of them can be found tucked into the background and corners of each page.

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labyrinth-the-ultimate-visual-history

Fans of Jim Henson are always waiting for the next pebble of gold about the beloved creator of the Muppets and other fantastical creations on the big and small screen. Whether via a retrospective image or a story from someone who worked with him, it’s as if we need to make up for the time stolen from us by his untimely death by seeking out every snippet of his life we can find.  The latest treasure chest of Henson memorabilia is Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann’s beautiful hardcover, 30th anniversary celebration Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History, published by Insight Editions.  Labyrinth, the 1986 fantasy classic that starred rock star David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly decades before she’d be awarded an Oscar, is in a small class of cult classic fantasies that came out of the 1980s that included The Princess Bride, Willow, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. 

Like so many of those “vault” books published for big genre franchises, Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History is not simply a book of high quality photographs of behind-the-scenes views of the cast, creatures, and crew and images of concept art, it’s all that plus more. Like more than 20 inserts reproducing treasures from the Henson Archives, including a pull-out of the full-color, theatrical one-sheet movie poster created for the film by Ted CoConis.  You’ll find classic style tipped-in concept art, draft script pages, and memos from Henson, with many items showing his hand-written notes.  

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I streamed the digital edition of Labyrinth (available here) to re-familiarize myself with the film before reading this new work, and was pleased to see every human character, every creature (all those goblins!), every scene, and every magical effect discussed in detail in this volume.  Three key images came to mind from viewing the film years ago: Bowie walking the M.C. Escher room in the show’s climax with a crazy upward, almost Michael Jackson-inspired move (turns out a stuntman worked the scene), Bowie’s flawless contact juggling of crystal balls (we learnit was a professional juggler’s arm actually doing the trick), and the masked ball (a pre-Star Trek Gates McFadden helped coordinate the scene).  Each of the scenes and production steps are described through contemporary or recent interviews with Jim Henson, Brian Henson and his siblings, Brian Froud (whose incredible concept art is sprinkled through the book and incorporated into its layout design), Toby (the striped baby) Froud, creature makers and players Kevin Clash and Dave Goelz, executive producer George Lucas, and actors Connelly and Bowie, among many others.

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crystalskeksis

This year Funko ReAction proved it can create the ultimate mix of nostalgia and quality.  The toy line famous for bringing to fanboys and fangirls action figures that were never made when these modern classics played in theaters has released images of its sculpts and packaging for The Dark Crystal.  The first figures from the ultimate 1980s fantasy film reveal Funko’s ReAction division’s best work so far.

We first heard about the ReAction line working on a project to bring to the market a set of figures from The Dark Crystal here at borg.com way back in November 2013 when its first retro line-up hit the market, featuring characters from Alien.  Funko has come a long way and proven to be a toy industry driver, particularly with its other toy lines like Pop! and Dorbz figures.  The small yet surprisingly complete set from The Dark Crystal is reminiscent of the successful and similarly small set of Raiders of the Lost Ark figures from the early 1980s.  Kudos are owed to Nena Ijiomah, aka Queen of Gates on Tumblr, the Funko 3D sculptor who simply nailed these designs.  You really see the care that went into these figures from images of her original designs.

nena-ijiomah-sculpt-dark-crystal-funko   nena-ijiomah-at-funko-3d-sculpt

Jim Henson and Frank Oz, directing The Dark Crystal, along with Brian Froud’s Muppet creature creations, showed us a glimpse at what might have been had Henson lived out a longer life.  Each of Froud’s unique beings–from the cute and toothy Fizzgig to the beautiful Landstrider, the creepy Skeksis, the haunting Garthim, the solemn mystic Ursol, and heroic Jen and Kira–all receive a loyal and respectable re-creation in this series.  And each figure includes a piece of the purple crystal, so, as the Pokémon Go kids say “ya gotta catch ’em all.”

Two boxed sets are exclusives and not so easy to track down.  The rest can be pre-ordered now from Entertainment Earth by clicking on the images above and below (after the break).

crystalkira    crystaljen

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i-am-jane-goodall

Do you remember your first book?  Was it Grover and the Monster at the End of This Book?  Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore’s Birthday?  A Child’s Garden of Verses?  De Angeli’s Book of Nursery & Mother Goose Rhymes?  The Pokey Little Puppy?  Milton the Early Riser?  Horton Hears a Who?  The Little Golden Book of Manners?  The Five Chinese Brothers?  The Ugly Duckling?  Curious George Goes to the Hospital?  I remember all of these (all recommended), but am not sure which was my very first.  A Child’s Garden of Verses was my first exposure to 3D via its magical lenticular cover.  I’ve read them all years later and they have much in common–compassion and respect for others and yourself is a common theme of them all.

Throughout the past year Brad Meltzer, noted fiction and non-fiction author and television personality (and DC Comics writer for the Identity Crisis and Green Arrow series) joined former Marvel Comics artist Christopher Eliopoulos to produce the Ordinary People Change the World series of books for young readers from Dial/Penguin/Random House.  Each of these could–or should–be your child, your nephew, niece, grandchild, or other young friend’s first book.  The latest, released this month, feature Dr. Jane Goodall and President George Washington.  As the holidays get closer, make a note of I Am Jane Goodall.   It’s a storybook written in an autobiographical style incorporating actual quotes from the noted scientist, environmentalist, and animal rights advocate, and belongs at the top of our recommendation list for today’s young readers.

jane-goodall-with-book

Meltzer and Dr. Goodall have gone back to young Goodall’s decisions and thinking as a child to relate to readers her influences, desires, and dreams, and how she went about carving a path to change the world.  Eliopoulos draws Dr. Goodall as an adorable girl throughout.  We meet her first stuffed chimp named Jubilee, and witness her thinking about moving to Africa to study chimpanzees at a young age, then actually saving the money to go to Kenya at 23 to visit the animals, meet Dr. Louis Leakey and eventually work for him, then to go on and live among the animals and learn more about communication and primates than anyone before her.  The story is sweet, inspiring, and beautifully written and drawn.

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Labyrinth

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Jim Henson fantasy classic Labyrinth, Fathom Events has joined with Sony Pictures to bring the movie back to theaters for one night only.  And a new book about the film is on its way from Paula Block and Terry Erdmann and we have some preview pages below.  The fantasy-musical stars David Bowie and a young Jennifer Connelly.

Connelly plays Sarah, a 16-year-old who wishes her brother away, a wish granted by the Goblin King.  In fine fairy tale style, Sarah must rescue her brother before midnight strikes, or he, too, will become a goblin.

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The film was co-produced by The Jim Henson Company and Lucasfilm.  You’ll see the work of plenty of legendary muppet performers, including Dave Goelz.  You won’t see the work of several actors in make-up from the original Star Wars trilogy, including Warwick Davis, Kenny Baker, and Jack Purvis.

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Big Bird in The Muppet Movie

If you can’t get enough of Sesame Street and The Muppets like this big kid who grew up with these shows and characters, then a 2014 documentary now available on Amazon is just for you.  I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a feature-length documentary about the original, and only, Muppets puppeteer who has performed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in the 45-year history of Sesame Street.

I Am Big Bird is a love letter of sorts, set to a bittersweet soundtrack.  Filmmakers created an emotional look at a performing artist, his wife, and his relationship with Jim Henson and the cast and performers of Sesame Street from the beginning to the present incarnation of the show.  Spinney comes through as every bit the kindhearted soul of his feathery yellow alter ego.  Highlights of the film include the impact of Big Bird on the world, from teaching little kids from 1969 onward, to being credited in part with the demise of a candidate’s presidential bid.  And nothing is more nostalgic than catching up with original Muppeteer Frank Oz and the original human cast of Sesame Street as they recount working with Caroll, including Bob McGrath (Bob), Sonia Manzano (Maria), Emilio Delgado (Luis), and Roscoe Orman (Gordon).

I am Big Bird poster

Expect to hold back (or not) some tears during the documentary.  Plenty of down moments provide benchmarks in the life and times of Big Bird: the Sesame Street episode featuring Big Bird about the death of Mr. Hooper, an incredibly poised Caroll performing Big Bird singing “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green” at the funeral of Jim Henson, and the segment discussing Caroll’s space travel preparation with NASA when he was asked to be among the Challenger space shuttle crew, only to be rejected when they realized the Big Bird suit was too big (and then teacher Christa McAuliffe took his place), a group of ROTC students nearly destroy his Big Bird costume, and even the replacement by Elmo as most popular character on the show serves as a downbeat event.

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All the Muppets from Muppets Most Wanted

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

The eighth big-screen film starring Jim Henson’s wacky, lovable Muppets hit theaters a couple of weeks ago, and for lifelong fans of the franchise, it’s a big win.  The 2011 film Muppets, written by and starring Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) was a heartwarming, family-friendly comedy, reviewed here.  We liked the 2011 movie but wished for more celebrity cameos.  Muppets Most Wanted, written by returning director James Bobin, returns to the kooky, offbeat humor of the original TV variety show and first motion picture, 1979’s The Muppet Movie.  And it delivers cameos aplenty.

In a plot somewhat reminiscent of various Muppet films past, this latest movie involves the intrepid troupe on a world tour, hot on the heels of the success of their last venture (meaning, in typical Muppets metafiction style, the 2011 film, or the reprise of the act as depicted in the film, or both, or… well, you’ll get it.  It’s the Muppets).  Along the way, no one suspects that their new tour manager, Dominic Badguy (“It’s pronounced ‘Badgey'”) (Ricky Gervais, The Office) is moonlighting as the sidekick to a criminal mastermind named Constantine–who also happens to be a dead ringer (almost) for Kermit the Frog.  Badguy books the Muppets into surprisingly sold-out gigs all across Europe, connives to have Kermit kidnapped and sent to a Siberian prison, and plots ever-more ambitious jewel heists along the way.

Gervais and Constantine

Human leads Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell (Modern Family), and Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live) turn in stellar performances that recall classic costars like Michael Caine (The Muppet Christmas Carol) and Charles Durning (The Muppet Movie).  The lively story, er, hops along, darting among Kermit and Fey in Siberia; Burrel and Sam the American Eagle as rival Interpol/CIA agents tracking Constantine; and the Muppets’ efforts to launch a successful European tour, despite lackluster direction from Fake Kermit and zany acts competing for space in the show.  Watch for wonderful classic Muppet-show-style performances like Gonzo’s “Indoor Running of the Bulls,” all featuring cameos from actors like Salma Hayek (Wild, Wild West) and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained).

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Muppets Most Wanted

Admit it, you know it’s true.  You really can’t go wrong with the Muppets and especially a new Muppet movie.  Back to the original The Muppet Movie in 1979, which included an all-star human cast of cameos along with the main Muppet players, to the 2011 rejuvenation of the Muppets on the big screen in The Muppets, the Muppets are all-around good fun.  In 2014 the next Muppet film will be released, Muppets Most Wanted, and “sequel” is the emphasis of this first trailer for the movie just released this past week.

And if you love the original The Muppet Movie as much as we do (it scored #3 on my all-time best fantasy movie list we discussed here at borg.com last year), then you’ll not want to miss your chance to get the pre-release discount of more than eight dollars for The Muppet Movie: The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition at Amazon.com.  But act fast since the release date is August 13, 2013, so you have a day to get your order in.

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