Muppet Retro Reviews: The World of Jim Henson


Michael Wermuth – The World of Jim Henson is a documentary on Jim Henson which aired as part of the PBS anthology series Great Performances in 1994. Unlike most documentaries, this one doesn’t have a narrator. Instead, various people are shown talking about Jim Henson (though their talking is sometimes heard over over clips). Interview subjects include Frank Oz, Jerry Juhl, Jane Henson, Brian Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney, Jon Stone, Harry Belafonte, Francis Ford Coppola, Maurice Sendak, Leonard Maltin, and Ted Kopple, as well as archive footage of Jim Henson talking about his work. In fact when this documentary aired I was confused–I was expecting it to be new, saw the Jim Henson footage and assumed it was an old documentary, until I saw his death acknowledged. And after all these years I still don’t know where much of the Jim Henson footage originated.

Anyway, if you know the timeline of Jim Henson’s life, you can probably guess the structure of this documentary. It focuses on Jim’s early works (including Sam and Friends and Timepiece), Sesame Street (with particular attention on the creation of Big Bird), The Muppet Show, the Muppet movies, Fraggle Rock (mainly focusing on Jim’s character Cantus), fantasy films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, The Jim Henson Hour (represented solely as a great clip montage), The StoryTeller, and Jim’s passing.

There’s a number of clips casual fans might expect to see that actually aren’t included, not even briefly in clip montages. I was expecting to see things like “Rubber Duckie” and “Mahna Mahna,” but they don’t appear. But the documentary does include many great clips, including Kermit and Sam lip-synching to “That Old Black Magic,” Miss Piggy and the pigs singing “I Get Around,” the bicycle scenes from the first two movies, and Cookie Monster singing “C is for Cookie,” as well as some clips that may be less expected, like Fozzie and Rowlf playing “English Country Garden” and Big Bird and a girl demonstrating big and little.

Really, aside from being disappointed that certain clips weren’t included, the only thing I would want more from this would have been interviews with more of the performers. Aside from Frank Oz, this special doesn’t really include any of the main performers who worked with Jim. It would have been great if it included interviews with Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Kevin Clash, but it would have especially been great if Caroll Spinney was interviewed considering the documentary has a special section on the creation of Big Bird yet Spinney is never even mentioned. It would have also been nice if some of the post-1990 productions from the company were represented as well.

But in the end, The World of Jim Henson is the greatest documentary on Jim Henson ever. It represents the majority of his work, there’s some great information and behind-the-scenes footage included, and the selection of clips is good.

Unfortunately we could not find this documentary on YouTube. If anyone is able to find it, please share it with us in the comments below!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

2 thoughts on “Muppet Retro Reviews: The World of Jim Henson

  1. Yeah, I remember this when it first aired and still have the first airing on tape. I should point out that Joan wasn't interviewed in this documentary, although shw was mentioned.

    I should also point out that the two clips which cold-open the show were from the short-lived “Here Come the Muppets” stage-show at Disney-MGM (now Hollywood) Studios. If you listen very closely, you will hear that they edit out the mention of Disney when Piggy is making an excuse of why she's not on the stage (and not realizing she's on a picture phone).

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