If you don’t love Jim Henson, then you must hate joy itself. Here are a few of the late Muppet maestro’s finest works, available now on Netflix Instant.
This wonderful television series that ran from 1983-1987 allowed Jim Henson to really cut loose — it’s a free-form, silly musical romp in which anything goes, and often does. It’s not all just seemingly random craziness, though — Henson’s social conscience is truly apparent in this series as he finds ways to explore the issues of prejudice, spirituality, personal identity and environment whilst throwing a really good party. Fraggle Rock was a worldwide hit, like Sesame Street and The Muppet Show before it — if you haven’t spent some time with Gobo, Mokey and the rest of the gang for a while, now’s your
The Dark Crystal might very well be Jim Henson’s masterpiece. This stunning piece of work has actually gotten even better with age, its uncompromised vision of a dangerous, fantastical world somehow even more impressive now than it was back in 1982. What’s most amazing about this tale of a young Gelfling searching for the missing piece of a magical crystal that shattered and brought unstable imbalance to the world is you can really see just how painstaking Henson’s (and Frank Oz’s) craft really is — this movie took forever to make, and how could it not have? Truly excellent filmmaking — they definitely don’t make ’em like this anymore, even though everyone’s trying like hell to get The Power of the Dark Crystal made sometime before the end of the world.
While The Dark Crystal has gotten even better with age, Labyrinth… has not. Labyrinth has always seemed a little awkward and uneven, though its experimental tone actually makes it rather endearing — you get a sense that Jim Henson had a bunch of ideas and needed some sort of canvas to try them all out at once. Despite its slapdash structure, there’s much to love here, not the least of which is David Bowie‘s fantastic performance as Jareth, the Goblin King, and the lovely Jennifer Connelly somehow carrying this entire story on her young shoulders as the only human protagonist. Henson even manages to make Bowie’s would-be courting of the 15-year-old Connelly not nearly as creepy as it should be.
If you’ve never seen this HBO series, you need to as soon as possible — The Storyteller is Jim Henson given full license to let his imagination run wild, and run wild it does. John Hurt plays the Storyteller, sitting by the fireside with his cynical dog (voiced and performed by Brian Henson) and spinning magical tales, many of which are based on various European myths and legends. The strangest episode, “Hans, my Hedgehog,” is also the bravest and best of the lot — it earned the series an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program. The Storyteller ran for nine episodes in 1987 and was succeeded by a short follow-up series, The Storyteller: Greek Myths…
Greek Myths ran for only four episodes in 1990 and featured a new Storyteller (Michael Gambon) and a new setting, as the fireside is replaced by a Minotaur’s labyrinth through which the Storyteller and his dog (once again voiced and performed by Brian Henson) wander whilst telling tales based on various Greek legends: “Daedalus and Icarus,” “Orpheus and Eurydice,” “Perseus and the Gorgon” and “Theseus and the Minotaur.” While John Hurt is somewhat missed (nothing against Gambon), you still get plenty of Henson magic, even if this follow-up series is inevitably not as “cozy” as its predecessor.