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JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN

"Celebrating the Innocence and Creativity of the Idea Man"

What You Need To Know:

JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN is an imaginative documentary on Disney+ about Jim Henson, co-creator of the Muppets. The movie features a fascinating mix of interviews and recordings. They paint a picture of a man who infused innocence and joy into his work. The story is told by family members, close friends, colleagues, and even Jim himself. Nearly every person speaks of Jim’s infectious creativity and love of storytelling. The movie relates Jim’s beginnings in local television to his work on national variety shows, SESAME STREET, THE MUPPET SHOW, Muppet movies, and two fantasy films.

JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN is extremely well crafted and loads of fun. The movie’s experimental imagery and vibrant music mirror Henson’s own creativity. IDEA MAN has a strong Romantic worldview portraying art as a means of personal expression rather than a spiritual gift from God. This is tempered, however, by strong moral elements such as Jim’s commitment to providing wholesome and even educational children’s entertainment. JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN also has brief references, though, to Jim’s interest in Buddhism and meditation. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children.

Content:

(RoRo, BB, FR, E, L, V, A, D, M):

Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Strong Romantic worldview about Muppet founder Jim Henson promoting art as personal expression and centered on one person’s artistic vision, even in collaborative arts such as theater and cinema and television, and a light statement saying there’s some good in all of us, but mixed with strong moral elements such as lines about the title character believing he had a purpose and reason, a celebration of life (Jim Henson says, “Life is basically good”), Jim says people have a duty and responsibility to provide wholesome and even educational entertainment for children, a promotion of honesty and integrity, a commitment to sometimes laugh about the absurdity of life (in a good, positive way), plus a reference at one point to Jim being interested in the false religions of Buddhism and “transcendental meditation,” and there’s an environmentalist line about saving the planet;

Foul Language:
One “h” word, one bleeped “f” word by a famous actress who appeared on THE MUPPET SHOW, and one exclamatory profanity;

Violence:
Various Muppets whack each other and do other childish hijinx, one puppet hits another with a club, another puppet shoots a puppet, man pretends to shoot the Mona Lisa, Miss Piggy karate chops some people;

Sex:
No sex;

Nudity:
No nudity;

Alcohol Use:
A couple alcohol brands were shown as part of Jim Henson’s commercials.

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Orson Welles is smoking a cigar while interviewing Jim Henson and Frank Oz, one of Henson’s most important partners and colleagues, a puppet pretends to be smoking, a guest of THE MUPPET SHOW smokes a cigar, and Lord Lew Grade smokes a cigar during an interview clip; and,

Miscellaneous Immorality:
Jim Henson says the puppets were designed to change genders in their early days to save money, Jim makes a joke about the “altar of money” to remind people they have to be careful with money and not get caught up in just seeking the power of a buck, “Sex and Violence” is a show concept that Jim comes up with that’s an overcorrection, and Jim and Jane Henson divorce because he spends so much time away from the family at work in New York and in London.

More Detail:

JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN is a documentary shrine dedicated to one of the world most imaginative, prolific and soulful storytellers of all time. The story follows the life of Jim Henson as told by his family, closest friends and even Jim Henson himself who recounts parts of his life. Each part of the documentary follows a man who loved to think, dream and, most of all, imagine. From his childhood, to commercials, to Sesame Street, to the Muppets, to indie filmmaking, hearing what everyone had to say about Jim Henson is interesting.

The movie’s main theme revolves around Jim Henson’s three distinct characteristics, a man of innocence, ideas and experimentation. It started with Jim’s love for television, which he considered the most influential in the world besides family and church. His desire to work in television led him to explore puppetry in college. Together with his future wife, Jane, he crafted a new creation known as a Muppet, a fusion of half puppet and marionette. Together with little stories, they secured a place for his puppet creations on a local television station.

Henson started by making various commercials and fun little stories. However, he felt a recurring theme haunting him – the sense of being put into a box. He didn’t just want to be known solely for puppetry. So, he sought inspiration in Europe, where he discovered puppets were revered as art. Upon returning from Europe, he made his own studio along with Frank Oz and two other gentlemen.

After getting married and having kids, Jim delved into short filmmaking and considered creating a series of fun nightclubs with experimental movies in the background. However, the people behind the new Children’s Television Workshop’s SESAME STREET program reached out to Jim. Fatherhood motivated Jim to inspire and educate children. For a while Jim was happy, until he felt trapped in a box.

Jim wanted to try new things and to be known as more than the SESAME STREET guy. He didn’t want to return to making commercials and wanted to try new ventures with his art. So, he tried to sell THE MUPPET SHOW, which was rejected repeatedly by producers in the States. However, one London producer bought the first season, and THE MUPPET SHOW was created.

Over time, the Muppets exploded, along with Jim’s fame. With this newfound fame, he went from television show to movies and his company created the first Muppet movie. This would lead to some issues at home.

While Jane and Henson divorced on paper, they didn’t lose their family values or love for each other. Jane and his children were still his biggest fans and greatest support. This was especially evident when he decided to leave THE MUPPET SHOW and pursue making two major movies: THE DARK CRYSTAL in 1982 and LABYRINTH in 1986. Both films were experimental and full of imagination, featuring new animatronics technology. Although they didn’t do well at the box office, both have since become cult classics. Sadly, soon after, Jim passed away at 53 in 1990 from untreated pneumonia.

Every person interviewed in IDEA MAN about Jim says the same things about him. They say he was quiet when alone, but a playful worker. He loved what he did so much that, to him, it felt like he was playing. He always wanted more, never feeling like he had done enough. His goal was to make people’s lives better with expression, art and humor. Although he wasn’t a Christian Scientist like his mother, he believed that all people had value even if they didn’t believe it. His compassion, innocence and joy were infectious.

The movie starts with Jim meeting his future wife, Jane, in a puppetry class in college. They begin in local television, including their creation of fun local commercials. Kermit the Frog was one of the earliest of the Muppets. Soon, Kermit and the Muppets start appearing on national variety television programs such as THE TONIGHT SHOW with Jack Paar and ED SULLIVAN’s program. The work of Jim’s company on those program’s led to the creation of his popular character Rowlf the Dog for Jimmy Dean’s national TV program. This led to the company’s groundbreaking work in the 1966 Oscar-nominated experimental short called TIME PIECE, then to the Muppets appearances on the Children Television Network’s popular SESAME STREET for preschoolers. Jim’s work on SESAME STREET allowed him to get away from doing work for commercials. It also allowed him to create little fun and educational experimental movies for children and their families. Jim followed this up with his company’s creation of THE MUPPET SHOW, which became a huge international hit. This led in turn to the 1980s TV program FRAGGLE ROCK and to the company’s work in Muppet movies and two fantasy films. Jim also started hiring out the company’s puppetry work for big budget movies and TV programs. Sadly, Jim’s early death at age 53 was a big blow to everyone, not only his family and the people he worked with, but also the millions of people who enjoyed his work.

JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN is extremely well crafted and loads of fun. The movie’s experimental imagery and vibrant music mirror Henson’s own creativity. It shows many of Jim Henson’s notes, keeping to linear storytelling about the various stages of his life. The chosen music is gentle and soothing, combining visuals and interviews to draw people into the story of Jim’s life. Naturally, Jim’s early death is a sad moment, but Director Ron Howard lets Jim’s friends, colleagues, family, and fans celebrate all the wonderful creative work Jim did. The sudden death of Jim’s older brother in a car accident is another sad moment in the movie.

IDEA MAN has a strong Romantic worldview portraying art as a means of personal expression rather than a means to celebrate God, His Creation or man’s relationship to God. However, this is tempered by strong moral elements stressing a commitment and duty to providing wholesome and even educational entertainment for children. The movie also celebrates life. For example, Jim says in an interview, “Life is basically good.” JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN also has brief references, though, to Jim’s interest in Buddhism and transcendental meditation. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children, families and adults.

Despite this, JIM HENSON: IDEA MAN is motivational and worth watching. Henson had a huge, positive impact not only on American and world culture, but also on all the people in his company, which was eventually sold to the Walt Disney Company. The Muppets continue to make movies, including one of MOVIEGUIDE®’s favorites, 1992’s THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge. One of the keys to the cinematic success of that movie is the fact that Michael Caine treats the Muppets as real people, not puppets. THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL also has one of the strongest Christian themes of any movie or television version of the classic book by Charles Dickens.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Ted Baehr was a good friend with Jim’s company’s chairman, Bob Savage, who went to a charismatic presbyterian church that Jim attended sometimes too. Bob became one of MOVIEGUIDE’s first Board of Reference members. Ted associate at City Univeristy of New York, Jim Day, was one of the founding Board of Directors of Children’s Television Workshop.


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