There is a new Muppet movie, called The Muppets, coming out in November 2011 and I am equal parts excited and apprehensive. I want it to be good. I want it to have that zany spark I remember from the original Muppet productions—a masterful combination of keen adult humor and childish goodwill without the saccharine cuteness common to “children’s” programs. I already want the library to buy it when it comes out on DVD.
It may seem odd for someone who is thirty-something to be so drawn to a movie with cloth actors, but Jim Henson’s work has played a major role in the lives of members of “the Muppet generation” such as myself.
From Sesame Street, we learned words and numbers, restraint when eating cookies, and respect for secrets of grandfather clocks.
The Muppet Show taught us that love is transcendent and everyone deserves respect, be they frog, rat or John Denver.
The original Muppet movies made it clear that even the most ragtag group of fallible misfits can accomplish great things if they work together, stay true to themselves, and travel with musicians.
Puppet-filled Henson fantasy films set outside the Muppet universe also contain powerful lessons. The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are two of my favorites. These films are magical, atmospheric, and a little bit scary. They remind us that sometimes we are each called to take on a task that seems huge, dangerous and impossible, for which we are not ready; and yet we can do what must be done and triumph in the end.
We lost a genius when Henson died, but the Muppet spirit remains alive in everyone who feels kinship with his characters or who has been inspired by them in any way. Disney and The Jim Henson Creature Shop carry on in his name with post-Henson Muppet productions like this new film and projects such as the sci-fi series Farscape. A group of musicians recently released tribute collection called Muppets: The Green Album, which was featured on National Public Radio. And, of course, there are ordinary people everywhere who, kindled by Jim Henson’s zany spark, find an oddly-shaped vegetable or a discarded scrap of corduroy and can’t help but see a face in it.