After many delays, false starts, and guarded optimism, the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, finally unveiled the brand-new Jim Henson Exhibition spearheaded by the Museum, in conjunction with The Jim Henson Legacy, and the help of Disney, Sesame Workshop, and The Jim Henson Company. After waiting for so long for his exhibit to open and learning about every potential detail planned for what was certain to be a monumental exhibit, our expectations for this planned exhibit were incredibly high and so we entered with guarded optimism, hopeful that we weren’t let down. Thankfully, that was not the case, because the Museum of Moving Image took our expectations and blew them even further than we could have ever expected.
For anyone who is a fan of Jim Henson, or any property created directly from Henson in his lifetime, this exhibit is an absolute goldmine. Everything in the exhibit, right down to every last detail is an absolute labor of love from the team behind this project, and it shows itself to the point where the team went above and beyond what could have been expected to deliver within this exhibit. Whether you’re a die-hard Muppet fan or an average viewer who has only seen a couple of Muppet films, this exhibit is sure to touch you, inspire you, and keep you interested from start to finish.
What’s truly amazing is the sheer amount of items that the museum and the Henson Legacy team chose to showcase, particularly in the early portions of the exhibit, which chronicles Jim Henson’s early years. Die-hard Muppet fans will be amazed to see things like the La Choy Dragon, Yorick, and an opening puppet showcase that features so many obscure Muppets that even an experienced Muppetologist as myself had difficulty identifying all of the puppets. The exhibit is split into seven sections, which begins with Jim Henson’s Early Years, Experiments, Sesame Street, The Muppets, Immersive Worlds, Looking Ahead, and Legacy. The split between these sections is probably what makes the exhibit so unique because it doesn’t simply showcase Henson as the guy who created The Muppets, it showcases him as an experimental filmmaker, a visionary so incredibly far ahead of his time. This is well showcased in the small portion titled ‘Experiments’, which goes as far as to showcase some incredibly obscure Henson projects, including Jim’s planned, but never conceived nightclub, Cyclia (including a small portion of the wall, demonstrating how Jim’s nightclub projections will have looked) his Academy Award-nominated short film, Timepiece, and the television film The Cube, just to name a few, not to mention the other sections dedicated to the experimental films, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
Moving past these two sections are the highlights of the exhibit, the two special sections dedicated to Sesame Street and The Muppets. On display, are the beautifully restored puppets from both these franchises, which were restored from their original versions and now beautifully displayed in this exhibit. Among the Sesame puppets are Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Prairie Dawn, and an array of merchandise and other items. On The Muppets side, fans will be able to see Miss Piggy, Statler and Waldorf, Nigel, The Swedish Chef, Zoot, and a band of Koozebanians. The Muppets section is by far the largest portion of this exhibit and it’s so beautifully detailed, with so much detailed information scattered throughout in the form of interactive video (like the hilarious test footage shot for The Muppet Movie, the secrets of the Muppets segment from The Jim Henson Hour and the pitch reel for The Muppet Show). The area also has a really special video wall, which simultaneously plays all 120 episodes from The Muppet Show, so you now have a solution to watching the episodes until Disney releases seasons four and five on DVD.
If all that wasn’t enough, perhaps my absolute favorite thing about the exhibit is the interactive opportunities found throughout. The first, gives visitors the opportunity and experience of performing their own puppets to the style of the classic lip sync videos from Sam and Friends. Guests can get down on the floor and get their arms way up to a camera that is high above the guest. Off to the side is the second camera is a wide view of the performer, and at the bottom is a monitor to view what your puppet performance looks like on-screen. Once you get your puppet into position, you can perform your character and quickly monitor your performance to make sure the character is properly lip-syncing and your head doesn’t get in the shot. Just like that, you’re already a professional puppeteer!
Another section gives guests the chance to build their own ‘Anything Muppet’, which are the background characters of Sesame Street. Essentially, an Anything Muppet is a bare body puppet, with easily interchangeable features such as eyes or hair, so that for a specific shot, the performers can quickly customize a puppet for a specific shot. Here, guests can attach new features to the puppet and see what it looks like when viewed on-screen. It’s another wonderful addition that adds so much and along with the puppetry experience, shows how far the staff went to make this experience as fantastic as it can be.
Wrapping up the exhibit is the ‘Immersive Worlds’ segment, which focuses on everything in the wacky and creative worlds that Jim Henson created. This includes Fraggle Rock, which features restored puppets of Gobo Fraggle, Uncle Travelling Matt, and Cantus Fraggle, along with four Doozers, an entire corner dedicated to The Dark Crystal, which features concept art, puppetry mechanisms, a screen playing an excerpt of the movie and an incredible display of a Skesis. Of course, Labyrinth is represented as well, with costumes worn by Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie are on prominent display as you exit the area and the exhibit comes to a close.
The final section is rather small, but die-hard Muppet fans and those with interest to puppetry may find it of interest. That’s because on display, is the puppetry technology behind Waldo C. Graphic, who made his debut on The Jim Henson Hour, and a prominent role in Muppet-Vision 3D. Jim loved to experiment with new technology and Waldo was another brilliant example of Henson way ahead of his time. In addition, the final section has concept art from The Jim Henson Hour and a video mural showcasing the legacy that Jim has left behind.
The Jim Henson Exhibition is practically everything we could have ever hoped for. It’s beautiful, painstakingly detailed, and absolutely mesmerizing to see and experience. It’s an absolute thrill that after many delays and false starts, that this exhibit is as spectacular as it set out to be, and that the legacy of Jim Henson has such a wonderful home at the Museum of Moving Image. The Museum is not only a spectacular home for great exhibits, but they are a pioneer in educational programs and workshops, and we’re glad that their care will help bring thousands of New York kids to learn and understand who Jim Henson was, the process of puppetry, and most importantly, to rediscover the magic of The Muppets. We honestly could not have asked for anything better, and we are so thrilled that the amazing work of the Museum of Moving Image, as well as the Jim Henson Legacy (thanks to the work of Craig Shemin and Karen Falk) will continue on the legacy of Jim Henson for many years to come.
Keep checking back throughout the weekend for more coverage of the opening, including high-definition pictures of the entire exhibit!
The Jim Henson Exhibition opens this Saturday, July 22nd, and will remain a permanent addition to the Museum of Moving Image. You can find more details on MoMI’s website right here.