At the height of his fame, Jim Henson delivered two films that deviated from his renowned Muppets and Fraggle Rock franchises. The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986) hint at where Henson could have taken puppetry had he lived longer. They represent the best of Henson’s fantasy world-building, beautifully crafted scenery, and, mastery of the puppet arts. More than thirty years later, revisiting these films produces two insights. The self-evident one is that they withstand the test of time; still heavy, haunting, and Homeric in the case of The Dark Crystal, while Labyrinth remains charged, comical, and campy. The lesser realized truth is that both films are hallmarks of a storytelling that sought to strike a balance between adult and child audiences, challenging adult notions about certain forms of entertainment.
Tag: Jim Henson
THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER was released in the summer of 1981. This was five years after The Muppet Show started, and just a few months after it ended. Given that The Muppet Show ended at the height of its popularity (Jim Henson wanted it to end on a high note rather than watch it inevitably fall from grace) the film was a welcome visit with old friends to contemporary audiences. It also solidified the Muppets’ transition from television to film. No longer was their popularity due solely to having a weekly variety show; they were movie stars.
By Amy Tetreault
The Muppets Take Manhattan – 1984 – dir. Frank Oz
Muppets Take Manhattan is the third in a series of live-action musical feature films with Jim Henson’s loveable Muppets. Released in 1984, this is also the final film before Jim Henson’s sudden death in 1990. In 1992, Henson was posthumously awarded the Courage of Conscience Award for being a “Humanitarian, muppeteer, producer and director of films for children that encourage tolerance, interracial values, equality and fair play.” Muppets Take Manhattan is a great example of Henson’s renowned work for both kids and adults. In fact, at times, I thought the Muppets were better geared for adults than kids. Besides the fact that the Muppets are made of cloth, their story in Muppets Take Manhattan is totally relate-able. Especially right now.
When sitting down to watch The Dark Crystal, a labor of love directed by legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and his frequent collaborator Frank Oz, you know you’re in for something unique in the truest sense of the word: not merely unusual, but one-of-a-kind. There really hasn’t been another film quite like it before or since. A “digitally enhanced” sequel titled The Power of the Dark Crystal is rumored to be in the works, but even that film won’t match its predecessor for sheer daring and ambition. Released in 1982 after being in production for five years, The Dark Crystal was conceptualized by Henson and British artist Brian Froud as the first live action film to feature only puppets and not a single human actor. This was a dream project for Henson, an attempt to explore new territory and push his art further.
Written by Jason Haas
U.S.A., 1979. 97 min. Henson Associates. Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom Deluise, Elliot Goud, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles; Music: Paul Williams; Produced by: Jim Henson; Written by: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl; Directed by: James Frawley
The Muppet Movie is a timeless family film for a number of reasons, but it is also a product of its times. The film rejects much of the cinematic aesthetic of the 1970s, an era that began with pornography enjoying widespread mainstream success and ended in the birth of the blockbuster, which reveled in auteurloving â€œlook-at-meâ€ filmmaking and/or special effects. Throughout the decade, cinema was fighting with television for its audience, so it is odd to find that a production staff that came mostly from television created a movie bursting with a deeply innocent love for the movies and for a time when movies provided a more cheerful joy. It seems as if Henson and his collaborators (most notably Frank Oz) were dedicated to creating a film that reflected a love of all that made the golden age of cinema so fantastic. Simultaneously, Henson and company, not unlike their big budget and pornographer contemporaries, make clear that their movie offers something that cannot be had in the comfort of oneâ€™s living room: more Muppet action than viewers could get out of TVâ€™s The Muppet Show.