Pop Culture

The Magic of the Muppets

Friday Mr. Sally J and I pulled our kindergartener out of school and went on a road trip. We took the family to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry for the day, and it didn’t disappoint.

Kermit the frog

As luck would have it, we caught one of the last days of the Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit, and it didn’t disappoint. I don’t know how my kids felt about it, but it was the highlight of my day. The exhibit displayed a good representation of Henson’s life’s work — from the early years all the way through to Fraggle Rock and The Dark Crystal. No photography was allowed in the exhibit, but many Muppets, including Rolf, Bert and Ernie were on display in glass cases. Miss Piggy in her wedding dress, along with the Piggy/Kermit cake topper was also on display.

Walking around the exhibit, I noticed adult after adult smiling, laughing and sharing with their children their favorite part of the Henson legacy. The Muppets got their big break when they signed on with Sesame Street in the late 1960s. You’d be hard pressed to find a Gen Xer who wasn’t familiar with Sesame Street or the Muppet Show. If you were a kid in the late 70’s, you were watching the Muppet Show with your parents each week.

According to my parents and other adults their age, they enjoyed watching the Muppet Show. Not tolerated, but enjoyed. It was a variety show that featured the best talent of the day, including Phyllis Diller, Elton John and so many more.

My nostalgia got me thinking– what will the TV show be of my children’s generation? There are so many more choices, the idea of a universal character everyone knows is almost nonexistent.And finding a character or show that parents also want to watch? I can’ think of one that my children enjoy that I really want to watch with them (I hear Phineas & Ferb may fit this bill, but we don’t have cable).

I have always admired Jim Henson’s work, but this exhibit sealed the deal. The magic of the Muppets is something that I’m glad I came of age with, and I hope that at some point my children learn to enjoy that magic too (mostly, Friday, they ran around the exhibit, Mr. Sally J and I tag teamed so we each had time to explore the exhibit).

2 replies on “The Magic of the Muppets”

I grew up with the Muppets, watched “Sesame Street” from season 1 and loved “The Muppet Show” as a tweener-teen. Did not appreciate Miss Piggy as a youth, but loved the others. TMS was aimed for adults, not just kids. Look at the guest stars. And it was on Saturday night at 8 PM if memory serves. Loved the setup of a show being put on each week. It added an extra dimension to the show and was the ideal platform for the randomness of its sketches and mixed roster of guest stars–Gene Kelly, Victor Borge, Beverly Sills. Drama happens on stage but backstage drama is even better. Very cleverly written show.

The humor was something else. Not wholesome all the time. Didn’t anyone else wonder about Gonzo’s love for his chickens? (Just weirdo me?) Loved how Fozzie was old Vaudeville. Sometimes his jokes didn’t register at first, but years later I’ve come to appreciate them.

And of course Waldorf and Statler, the resident curmudgeons/ critics added the third layer, almost breaking that fourth wall because the viewer audience was suppose to relate to them. And how many other TV shows in the 70’s-early 80’s gave two elderly dudes such great lines? None.

First of all, you can watch episodes of Phineas and Ferb on Disney’s website if you are interested. I have it set to record on our DVR so I can watch it whenever I want, but I like cartoons anyway. If I had to guess I would say Spongebob is the closest thing we have to a universal kids show now.
Here in Atlanta we have the Center for Puppetry Arts which features performances, classes and a museum. From what I hear it is quite respected in puppetry circles. A while back Henson Studios loaned them some pieces for an exhibit and as they unpacked them all they found an extra. It was an old Kermit with a note from Brian Henson, saying that it was in fact the original Kermit the Frog that his dad made to entertain him with when he was a little boy. Now, this story may have been embellished a bit by the time I heard it, but the idea of being in the presence of the very first Kermit actually chokes me up a little bit. I still have a strong attachment to those crazy Muppets.

Leave a Reply