Mitchell Stein- Whenever The Jim Henson Company releases a new production, it’s always something for Muppet fans and Henson enthusiasts to be excited about. As a longtime fan and appreciator of the family-owned business, I really appreciate all of the hard work and dedication that Henson Company puts into their projects and maintaining their legacy. Their new Thanksgiving special, Turkey Hollow, airing this month, is a film that Muppet fans have been craving for, and will leave fellow diehards rejoicing over.
The amazing thing about Turkey Hollow is that it’s been adapted from an original story written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl in 1968. At the helm of bringing this long-lost masterpiece to life is Kirk Thatcher, who’s had quite a long and memorable history with the Muppets dating as far back to The Jim Henson Hour. Taking on adapting such a project is an incredibly daunting task, but it’s one that is handled wonder Aside from being just at it being simply a super fun Thanksgiving family television special, it succeeds so well at capturing that true Jim Henson vibe to it. As the diehard fans that are, I wish we could get a glimpse into exactly how much was taken (or removed) from the actual original script, but regardless, there’s clearly a strong feeling of the legacy of Jim Henson living on through this film. I don’t know how much of it was intended to be, but it strongly feels like a beautiful tribute to both Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl and that legacy they left behind.
There’s a lot that really works marvelously in this special. In our Q&A with Kirk Thatcher, he spoke about how Jerry Juhl taught him about theimportance that the heart and emotional aspect of the story affects the film. Knowing that, it’s easy to see where Kirk’s strong inspiration for the massive amount of heart in this story had come from. It was important to Kirk that these characters be both somewhat alien, and a sort of cute/creepy aspect that that the characters also be lovable-much in the same way E.T. captivated audiences. In what could easily be just a troupe of goofy monsters with not much purpose except chessy slapstick humor, the crew behind this film made sure to make these characters have a purpose and enough heart for audiences to connect with.
The movie starts off really strong-and hilarious- in it’s opening scenes, yet it does suffer slightly from being a tad dragged out at some point in the middle. I think there’s a few moments that could have been trimmed without suffering to the story far too much, but I guess that’s not really a complaint, as the other strong scenes really make up for the slower ones.
The film stars Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future Part III) as Aunt Cly, Jay Harrington (Better Off Ted) as Ron Emmerson, the father of the two focal child characters, Annie and Tim Emmerson played by Genevieve Buechner and Graham Verchere respectively. For the most part, I think the cast deliver their roles fairly well for their parts. The supporting cast was certainly far weaker than the main characters, yet, it was a lot of fun to see some of these characters play off each other.
But the real stars of the film are four oddly cute alien monsters, Squonk, Burple, Zorp and Thriing. The really impressive camera puppetry tricks and the character design of these characters truly amazes me and what went in to how some of the in-camera effects were pulled off (DVD bonus feature, please?). Performing Squonk is Alice Dinnean, known for her work in Muppet circles for quite a large number of her work as additional Muppets on many productions since Kermits Swamp Years. Brought in from Canada were Gord Robertson (of Fraggle Rock and Zoboomafoo fame). In addition, Jason Hopley who makes his debut in the Henson realm as Zorp, and Rob Mills, who performed the live body of Junior Gorg in Fraggle Rock, play Burble.
The film also includes narrator segments by Chris”Ludacris” Bridges. While funny, I felt the story was strong enough to support itself without the narrator sequences, which felt more like a recap of what we saw rather than introducing what was important to the story. The overall aspect of the narrator elements were funny, but still very much unnecessary seeing how the rest of the story can support itself without the narrator aspect. However my curious Muppet fan self is left wondering if a narrator addition was an original choice by the team or one that was borrowed over from the original transcript.
Something that recent Henson productions like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, have suffered from is the attempt for “modern” and “hip” references. It got a bit tiresome to hear the obviously forced hip references of social media. The bratty, phone obsessed, city mouse daughter has become a bit of a television trope on it’s own, so it just grows a bit tiresome to see these characters get that treatment. Obviously that doesn’t mean that made the characters unlikable, but there is obviously a lot stronger potential for family conflict. There’s mentions of their father recently going trough a divorce, why not touch base on that a little bit more? It’s more of just a brief mention than a character development aspect, so I was really hoping for a bit more in that area.
Truthfully, I’m not left with much to nitpick from. Without giving anything from the plot away, I’m happy to say that I was super delighted by what we have been treated to. That being said, it’s wonderful to see the Henson Company with such a marvelous fun film. After several hits or misses the company goes through, it’s just fun and refreshing to see the company with such a strong film on their hands. My strong hope is that this film garners a lot of attention for the company which will lead to a string of future television specials.
Turkey Hollow is a film that I’m certain longtime Henson fans will come to cherish with their families for years to come. I hope it’s goofy, fun and massive amount of heart will gain a large audience to allow it to live on for a long time. The film feels like a wonderful tribute to the work of Jim Henson and it is simply amazing to see such a long-lost project being brought to life so expertly and nearly flawlessly. As one of the Jim Henson Company’s strongest productions in over a decade, I couldn’t be more thrilled by the results, and I really hope you’ll tune in Saturday November 21st on the Lifetime Channel and I hope you’ll come to agree as well.
Turkey Hollow airs on the Lifetime Channel this Saturday with multiple repeats during the week. Check your local TV showtimes for a full listing.