No Thanks, I Don’t Want a Jim Henson Movie

Published: April 26, 2021
Categories: Commentary, Feature

By now, you’ve probably heard about Muppet Man. It’s a new movie in development by Disney and the Jim Henson Company, based on the life of Jim Henson himself. Jim Henson is one of my all-time favorite creative geniuses, and when I think about the possibility of a Jim Henson movie, I feel… not excited at all.

That’s right. Despite the fact that I consider Jim to be one of the all-time great American artists and I spend much of my life thinking about his creations, I would be happier if there was never a scripted dramatization of his exploits.

Before I go any further: Am I pre-judging a project that doesn’t exist yet and might never exist? Yes, pretty much! Is it possible that the right team could produce a genuinely good Jim Henson movie? Sure, anything is possible! Am I an unreasonable weirdo? Maybe!

The Deadline article that broke the news reported that the movie will be about Jim’s “journey to convince broadcasters that The Muppets was a great idea and how he worked to get the characters on air where they became a comedy staple.” This sounds like it’s describing the era when Jim was trying to get the Muppets their own TV series.

That’s interesting, but is it interesting enough for a movie? I guess it’s kind of like the plot of The Muppets Take Manhattan, which is about Kermit the Frog trying to get the Muppets their own Broadway show. But The Muppets Take Manhattan is a musical comedy where much of the action takes place at a restaurant where rats work in the kitchen. Will Muppet Man be a musical comedy with rats working in the kitchen? I guess it would be kind of fun to see Jim Henson singing and interacting with Muppet rats, but if Disney’s going to pay for a movie like that, I’d rather see them spend the money on a new Muppet movie.

But let me make a half-hearted attempt to be rational. Does a true story have to be super-dramatic to be turned into a movie? No, not really. When a screenwriter writes a script based on true events, they make all kinds of changes to the story. They play with the chronology, they skip over details, and sometimes they even invent characters who didn’t exist.

When a movie like this is released, there are always a ton of people complaining about it. They say things like “This new movie about Silly String is terrible! They combined creators Leonard A. Fish and Robert P. Cox into one person! They showed Silly String being produced by a made-up toy company when it was really Wham-O! They completely misrepresented the story of Silly String getting banned in Ridgewood, New Jersey! This movie is a slap in the face to Silly String fans!”

And so on. When I read these sticklers’ protests, my general response is, “Uh, yeah. Of course they changed things. Real life rarely conforms to the structure of a screenplay. They have to take liberties to keep things interesting. That’s movies!”

Which is easy for me to say when the movie is about Silly String, a subject I’m not exceptionally interested in. But we Muppet fans are exceptionally interested in Jim Henson, which means we’re going to notice every change to the real story. I don’t have the specifics of Silly String lore memorized, but the history of Jim Henson and the Muppets is written on my brain in permanent marker. I can’t be the only Muppet fan who would find it distracting when the filmmakers inevitably pretend The Frog Prince never happened, or fail to acknowledge Eren Ozker’s role in the first season of The Muppet Show, or neglect to show Nigel as the host of the Sex & Violence pilot.

Seriously. Can’t you just see them completely ignoring Nigel? Can you believe they’d do something like that? It’s so annoying! IT GETS MY BLOOD BOILING JUST THINKING ABOUT IT! IT MAKES ME SO MAD!

As a reminder: I am talking about a movie that doesn’t actually exist yet.

If I really tried, I might be able to accept some creative license. But even then, who could possibly play the part of Jim Henson and get it right? Who could capture his unique energy and personality? There were a lot of jokes on social media about how Tom Hanks could do it because he plays every real-life figure in movies now. Of course, Tom Hanks is too old to play Jim Henson in the ‘70s. But Tom Hanks did play Walt Disney in a high-profile movie… and did you ever for one second think you were looking at Walt Disney onscreen? No, you were looking at Tom Hanks with a moustache doing a little bit of an accent. If they cast a famous actor as Jim, it’s going to be hard for us to see him as Jim Henson rather than just “Famous Actor Man in a beard.”

If this movie must exist, it’s good that Disney is involved, if only because that means all the Muppet Show characters can be depicted onscreen. But how are they going to handle the depiction of the Muppets? Let’s say the movie takes place in 1974, when Jim produced The Muppets’ Valentine Show as a pilot for a Muppet series. Jim was 38 in 1974, so let me see… Who’s a 38-year-old actor? Okay, here’s one: Anne Hathaway.

So let’s say Anne Hathaway is playing Jim Henson, and there’s a scene where Jim pulls on the Kermit puppet and starts performing. Whose voice will we actually hear coming out of Kermit? Will it be Anne Hathaway doing a Kermit voice? Will it be a recording of an old Jim Henson performance? Will it be Matt Vogel, the official performer of Kermit the Frog?

Neither of those options seem completely ideal… and the same question has to be resolved for all the other Muppets – Jerry Nelson’s characters (He was 40 in 1974, so he’d be played by 40-year-old Kristen Bell), Richard Hunt’s characters (He was 23 in 1974, so he’d be played by 23-year-old Elle Fanning), and so on.

I imagine there will be an audience for Muppet Man if it actually gets made, especially if people think it’s going to make them cry. Moviegoers love crying. But I just don’t have any desire to see an actor pretending to be Jim Henson in a fictionalized movie that heightens the drama of his life. I’d rather watch one of the Jim Henson documentaries again, or re-read the excellent and thorough Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. Everything you need to know about Jim is right there in those documents, and it’s more-or-less the “real” Jim Henson rather than a Hollywood version of him.

In fact, I can really only think of one reason I might be happy to see Muppet Man get released: The potential for tie-in merchandise. Disney could go the whole nine yards like they do with their animated movies and the Marvel and Star Wars films. I’d love to have bedsheets with images of action-packed scenes of Jim Henson typing up presentations and taking meetings with network executives. Or a video game about trying to find guest stars for the first season of The Muppet Show. Or a Jerry Juhl doll. I don’t want to see the movie, but I’d like to own a Jerry Juhl doll.

Did I mention I might be an unreasonable weirdo?

Click here to demand Silly String accuracy on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe –

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