Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Featherless Wings

I've been working on adding details and fur to a hinge-jawed werewolf mask for the past couple of weeks, and mindlessly paging through Netflix as I do. Recently, I had the incredible fortune of discovering the documentary on the man who gave voice and life to Elmo, Kevin Clash. It's hard to believe that a simple human being could create such a wonderfully innocent and yet subversive personality, and harder still to believe that Jim Henson wasn't alone in his work, but had the help and support of hundreds of dedicated people.

Jim Henson was a huge innovator in the world of Special (Practical) FX. His creatures thought, moved, breathed. They were far more than simple puppets. Through their operators and puppeteers, they were alive. Even when a child sees a Muppeteer attached to their friend, it doesn't matter. Watch. That child absolutely knows that their Muppet companion is alive and well, and is truly talking with them.

So much of my childhood was laid out in ancient taped VHS recordings of The Muppet Show, of grainy recordings of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, complete with horrible 1980s commercials where my parents forgot to pause recording between them. Sesame Street taught me not to be scared of monsters, that being adopted deserved a song and dance number from the whole neighborhood, that conflicts could be solved with a little talking, and even the meanest grouch had a heart for something. Even worms could reach the stars, on Sesame Street.

Now Disney owns The Muppets, and despite a come-back movie, the truly funny moments are relegated to the internet. Short clips of The Muppets rocking out in intricate and ridiculous manner are hidden like gems among the countless "watch me pop this zit!" and "amateur stuntman is grievously injured!" videos. There is something phenomenally sad about this. Jim Henson is dead, but the zaniness he created deserves to live on. I know he wanted to move on from just the standard Muppets, that he wanted to create entire worlds within the realm of CG. That can happen too.

A series of comic books has been created, it's true. My utmost hope is that one day the Henson family will discover and release his lost scripts, and we can get one final glimpse into the mind of the man that was so integral to my growing up, and my choice of career. As of right now, all I can say is, "Thanks, Jim."

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