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Jim Henson Idea Man movie review (2024)

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Jim Henson Idea Man movie review (2024)

When “The Muppet Movie” came out in the summer of 1979, my parents took me and a group of my friends to see it. We made sure to sit up in the front row—I had heard that there was a scene in which Kermit was seen riding a bicycle. Since my basic knowledge of Muppet physics suggested that such a thing was impossible, I wanted to get a good look and see if I could figure out how they did it. (I didn’t, but that was soon forgotten when, at dinner that night, my dad chose that moment—unconsciously, he claimed—to order frog’s legs for his meal.) And, of course, when it was announced that Henson died on May 16, 1990, of a bacterial infection at the age of 53, it literally felt as if a piece of my childhood had gone with him.

For someone of my generation, the notion of watching a documentary on Henson’s life and work with anything resembling objectivity is an impossibility. Take Ron Howard’s “Jim Henson: Idea Man,” for example. In many ways, it is a frustrating film—very conventional in its structure, offers little in the way of any new revelations about Henson and his work, and leaves a lot of stuff out that might get in the way of the largely sunny narrative. However, seeing the vast array of archival clips that make up the bulk of the film—both scenes from his various projects as well as behind-the-scenes looks at how they were achieved—is like biting into one of Proust’s madeleine cakes in the way it unlocks one’s memories of experiencing Henson’s work for the first time.

If you’re a fan of Henson and his legacy, you probably know much of the story presented here. The doc goes from his childhood and first attempts at puppetry (inspired entirely by a desire to work in television) to becoming one of the key figures of the immensely successful “Sesame Street.” A few years later, he decided to spread his artistic wings by creating a new variety show that featuring Kermit the Frog, one of the most beloved of the “Sesame Street” characters, as well as an army of new Muppets, most notably future superstar Miss Piggy. 

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