Monday, May 04, 2009

Jim Korkis Meets the Muppets

Attached is a photo opportunity the exhibit had in the lobby where it looked like you were sitting with Jim Henson and Kermit. If you decide to run it on the site, you might want to crop it along that bottom line of the Henson picture so it looks more like I am sitting with them rather than running off the bottom of the picture.

Disney Historians Jim Korkis and Michael Lyons (along with Disney enthusiast Lonnie Hicks) attended the Orange County Regional History Center's travelling exhibt from the Smithsonian "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" in Orlando, Florida shortly before it closed. Jim Korkis thought it was exceptionally well done but regretted there wasn't a catalog/program book available for sale. In the educational area of the exhibit, there were several hardcover books that were prepared only for the exhibit including one on Henson's early works (commericals), the muppets, puppetry, and "Dark Crystal" which apparently was a favorite of Henson's (so much so that he only agreed to do the movie "Great Muppet Caper" for the opportunity to make "Dark Crystal".)
The exhibit included examples of Henson's original sketches, video of early commercials (Henson made hundreds that sometimes lasted as little as eight sections), video of his Oscar nominated live action short in 1964 "Timepiece", some of the muppets, a twenty minute video overview of Henson's career, examples of never produced projects including "Johnny Carson in the Muppet Machine" (a half hour special) and a project for the 1964 New York World's Fair (Hmm. How would the world have been different if Walt had seen the Muppets at the World's Fair and met Jim Henson? Sesame Street didn't debut until 1969 and up until that time the Muppets were just occasional infrequent guests on a variety of shows like Ed Sullivan.)

The entire exhibit made little if any reference to Disney (other than it was the last project he was working on and Henson's affection for early Disney feature animation) and the following information: "Jim Henson and his family first visited Walt Disney World in 1973 and at breakfast Jim was especially taken by the costumed characters interacting with the guests and how the characters related purely physically and without using a voice." The exhibit also pointed out that the tv special "Muppets Visit Walt Disney World" aired ten days before Henson's death and that Henson had bought a house in the Windermere area, an upscale community about fifteen minutes away from WDW..where Roy O. Disney once had a house as well..and was re-modelling it just before he passed away.

When I got to briefly ask Heather Henson, Jim Henson's youngest daughter and a puppeteer herself who happened to be there when we visited, about the Muppet connection with Disney, it was obvious that she was sticking to the propostion that everything was fine and that Jim worked closely with Michael Eisner primarily but didn't go into any further details whether Jim enjoyed the process and what were other Muppet-Disney projects that were being worked on.

The exhibit featured some very motivational quotes by Jim Henson himself including some historical insights including: "We did use the term Muppets before we got the show 'Sam and Friends'. It was really just a term we made up. For a long time I would tell people it was a combination of marionettes and puppets but, basically, it was just a word that we coined." (Heather Henson agreed with that quote, saying that is what her dad and mom told her as well.) Also, Oscar the Grouch was orange not green for the first season of Sesame Street and Henson laughingly reveals in a video clip that when they didn't know how to end a Muppet skit they would have one eat the other or blow up the other. Lots of fun stuff like that as green three toed web footprints on the floor direct you around the displays.

The exhibit is very well done with alot of work by the Jim Henson Legacy and the Smithsonian with contributions from the Biography Channel. Well worth seeing if it comes to a city near you. Again, sad there wasn't some sort of program book to document and of course, wanted to know more about Henson's final work with Disney. Both Michael Lyons and I were also surprised by how large some of the muppets were in person, easy to see why it would take two puppeteers or more to manipulate them.

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