I have a lot of Muppet stuff. It’s on my shelves, on my walls, in boxes under the bed and in the closet. It’s a lot of stuff. And yet, there have been those items of Muppet merchandise through the years that caught my eye, that I coveted, but that I never owned.
Among these items: The Jim Henson Hour lunchbox.
I love The Jim Henson Hour. My fellow Tough Pig Anthony Strand and I have speculated that the two of us may be at the top of the list of World’s Biggest Jim Henson Hour Fans. We even traded off on an episodic review series of the show for its 25th anniversary.
Unlike the vast majority of Earth’s population, I actually watched much of the show as it aired. I was a young Muppet fan who had only seen a handful of Muppet Show episodes, but I loved the combination of strange, imaginative Muppet segments and stranger, even more imaginative fantasy segments. It was like… like… Well, it wasn’t really like anything. It was a category-defying primetime stage on which Jim Henson got to show off all the cool stuff he and his collaborators could do with modern television technology.
Unfortunately, the TV viewers of 1989 didn’t know what to make of it, and it was cancelled by NBC pretty quickly. Some of the episodes didn’t even air on American TV until they were incorporated into a package of Henson specials on Nickelodeon in 1993. It didn’t leave much of an impression.
And yet, somehow, ONE piece of Jim Henson Hour merchandise got made. It’s not a Vicki action figure, or a Living with Dinosaurs doll, or a build-your-own-Ultragorgon kit.
It’s a lunchbox.
It was made by the Thermos company, which made a lot of licensed lunchboxes in those days, and still does. I just took a quick trip to Thermos.com and found lunchboxes bearing the images of Hello Kitty and Spider-Man, and the name of Jojo Siwa.
There’s not much to the Jim Henson Hour lunchbox. The Thermos itself doesn’t have a picture of Kermit or the White Lion, or anything. There’s just one photo on the surface of the lunchbox, featuring some Muppets busting out of a TV with the show’s logo. As an astute Muppet Wiki editor points out, it’s an odd choice that “[t]he image uses the new, unknown characters, rather than familiar faces like Kermit the Frog or Gonzo, who also appeared on the show.” Perhaps the Henson people and the Thermos people were really betting on Zondra and Digit being embraced whole-heartedly by America’s children.
On the opposite side is nothing. Just a blank void of yellow plastic. Furthermore – as the always-insightful wiki also points out – The Jim Henson Hour premiered at midseason and was cancelled in the summer, so by the time the 1989-1990 school year started, the show had disappeared.
I wonder, did Jim Henson own one of these? I hope he did. I hope he carried his lunch in it when he went to visit the sets of The Witches or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It’s not surprising that I didn’t know the lunchbox existed back in 1989, although I wish I had. At the beginning of every school year, when we went shopping for new school supplies, my parents would let my siblings and me choose a new lunchbox. Those things suffered a lot of wear and tear, I suppose. At various times, I had an ALF lunchbox, a Silverhawks lunchbox, and at least one Super Mario Bros. lunch box. (Now see if you can guess how old I am!)
If I had come across a Jim Henson Hour lunchbox, I would have grabbed it. I would have cherished the opportunity to be the only kid in the cafeteria carrying pimento cheese sandwiches in a container featuring the smiling face of Ubu. The closest I ever came was the time, in the mid-1990s, when I found a Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley lunchbox at the bottom of a lunchbox bin. That Saturday morning cartoon was probably equally as obscure as The Jim Henson Hour, but I had also been a regular viewer of Martin Short’s animated alter ego when the show aired in 1988. At that late date, I passed it by. If only it had been Leon rather than Ed grinning at me from that plastic enclosure!
Now, here’s the thing: A website called eBay is now at my fingertips. The Jim Henson Hour lunchbox is often available from multiple sellers, and it’s generally quite affordable. Why haven’t I bought one yet? I don’t know.
But one of these days I will. I’ll actually get around to buying one, and then I can display it proudly with the rest of my Muppet collection. Maybe I’ll pack myself a lunch in it, take it into the living room, and eat out of it while I watch The Jim Henson Hour. I reckon a little box of Sunmaid raisins would go great with the Buster Poindexter episode.
By the way: Yes, I had pimento cheese sandwiches in my school lunches. Every day from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. Yes, I’m aware that’s kind of weird.
Thanks to Muppet Wiki and eBay users shelf_warmers, universalranger2, and soundnlightindustry for the images! Click here to finish eating and go outside to play on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com