Muppets Tonight! Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited at the Skirball Museum

Published: June 13, 2018
Categories: Feature, Reports

The following article was written by Muppet fan Rachel Deering.  Many thanks to Rachel for her hard work!

We Muppet-loving Angelenos are blessed, in a sense. The Jim Henson Company and the Muppets arm of the Disney company are all based out of Los Angeles, and we often have access to some really cool experiences as a result. The latest in that line was the late night opening of Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited exhibition at the Skirball Museum, and boy were we treated to some fun stuff.

The night began with food trucks, a great DJ (Timothy Nordwind of OK Go, who was playing classic Muppet tunes throughout the night), roving puppeteers, and a make-your-own puppet table. When the exhibition opened, we all clamored in (through the gift shop, of course) to the main entrance of the gallery. The puppets from Pajanimals and Julie’s Greenroom were on display, and they looked incredible! This was my first time seeing Henson puppets up close and personal, so I was incredibly impressed with the craftsmanship and how animated they all looked, even when they were standing still. It was a nice reminder that Jim Henson’s legacy is still living on, whether with the Muppets or with the Jim Henson Company’s new original characters.

After we rounded the corner, we found ourselves face-to-face with the head frog himself: Kermit! I couldn’t believe how amazing he looked in person. This particular puppet was from the 70s, so while he still looked good, you could tell he’d had his time on set.

The exhibition was divided into 4 main sections: Early Works, Sesame Street, The Muppets, and… Immersive Worlds. Basically the “Other” section. There was also a small corridor dedicated to Henson’s experimental works, at about half the size of every other part.

The Early Works section took you on Jim’s journey from the beginning. His old comics were on display, as well as commercial puppets like Beautiful Day Monster, Wilkins and Wontkins (in color!!!), and the gas pumps from the old Marathon Gasoline commercial. Walking around this section, there were numerous screens playing old commercials, Sam and Friends, and other early works on loop. There was also a corner where you could practice your film puppetry skills, copying old Sam and Friends sketches. Rowlf had an entire wall dedicated to his history, but unfortunately only a toy Rowlf puppet was on display.

The exhibition continued on to Henson’s experimental works, where you could watch clips of Time Piece and Drums West. They touched on Youth ’68, but unfortunately no footage was available. One corner housed the concept wall for Cyclia, which was super cool and very, very 70s.

The Sesame Street section housed quite a few old puppets: Ernie, Bert, The Count, Grover, and the whole Wiggling Brothers Circus, all from the 70s and 80s. Of course, they were all behind plexiglass cases, but there was one that wasn’t… Fat Blue! A Fat Blue Anything Muppet was on display, complete with a range of accessories with which to dress him/her up. You could even do a little screen test when you were done. It was so cool seeing how an Anything Muppet works.

Moving right along to the Muppets section, we were immediately greeted with a calm Bunsen and an obviously terrified Beaker. Behind them were Scooter and the Country Trio, along with all of their conceptual art and small descriptions of each puppet. You could take your picture underneath the famous Muppet Show arches before making your way towards the Muppet movies corner. Posters from The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan adorned the walls, as well as Miss Piggy’s gloves and costume designs.

Even Baby Piggy and Fozzie were on display, and they were huge! Baby Piggy was holding tight to a ragdoll Kermit, which I had never seen before. There were also some cels from Muppet Babies, which were in surprisingly good shape for being in their 30s.

In the Immersive Worlds, we were immediately greeted by Red and Wembley, as well as Steve Whitmire’s microphone headset. The original treatment for the Fraggles (or should I say, the Woozles??) was available for reading, as well as some original concept art of the Fraggles in their more caveman-like state. There was also a behind-the-scenes video about the Doozers and Gorgs. There wasn’t much on display for Fraggle Rock, or Labyrinth for that matter. I loved seeing Jareth’s and Sarah’s ball costumes in person, but I wanted more!

Right across the way were Kira and Jen, who were looking… a bit terrible, to be honest. Latex does not hold up well throughout time so it wasn’t unexpected, but still sad. Aughra and the Chamberlain were also there in their full glory, looking way better than the Gelflings.

The Chamberlain looked a bit like he had been squished into his display case; his stance looked more like a Mystic than a Skeksis. One of my favorite parts of the Dark Crystal display was a display showing potential names for all of the characters. It looked like a much less glamorous process than I had imagined, which made it all the better. Skek-kek? I’m glad we got what we got. There were also a few hand props from the film, which looked like they belonged in a proper museum. They looked like caveman tools and medieval relics!

At the end of the exhibition, there was this special message from the museum:

Despite my nitpicks, I think that message rings true. Times are tough, and people are forgetting each other. Every face in that museum was wearing a huge smile, whether they were hardcore fans seeing their heroes in real life or parents showing their children a glimpse of their past. For just a moment, everyone was living in that room, full of laughter and love and wonderful stories. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Click here to visit the ToughPigs forum, which belongs in a museum!

by Rachel Deering


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