‘Jim Henson Idea Man’ Review – Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans

By: Greg Gately

'Jim Henson Idea Man' Review - Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans

‘Jim Henson Idea Man’ Review – Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans. In a world where streaming services can turn a simple documentary into multiple hour-long series of serial killers and horrible people, it is a disservice to the legacy of The Muppets creator, the man who made my childhood and many other childhoods joyful, Jim Henson, and give him so little time and attention. I said what I said!

Jim Henson Idea Man” takes us into the mind of this singular creative visionary, from his early years of puppeteering on local television to the worldwide success of Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and beyond. Featuring unprecedented access to Jim’s archives, Howard brings us a fascinating and insightful look at a complex man whose boundless imagination inspired the world. 

Jim Henson’s life was complex, beautiful, and tragic as any other human is, but the difference is other humans do not bring so much joy to so many people that far outlasted the man himself, and if it weren’t for his inherent beliefs, passed down from his parents, may still be around to this day. Jim Henson’s legacy and creations will far outlast us, and if anyone in this world could be held up on the same pedestal as Walt Disney, Jim Henson is that person.

Disney and Ron Howard give the audience what they want. Rainbows, and creatures. Spending over an hour and a half on nothing but the good, and missing out on the complexities of life. Sometimes skipping over vast sections of Jim Henson’s career that the audience wants and needs to see. Ron Howard is just regurgitating the stories we have all heard before, adding nothing new or of substance.

'Jim Henson Idea Man' Review - Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans

Related: Disney and Music Legend Richard M. Sherman Passes Away at 95

Most fans of Jim, The Muppets, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock, or of singular characters like Ernie, Kermit the Frog, and Dr Teeth know the history. Ron Howard just finds a more interesting way of telling the story of Jim Henson with access to rare archival footage, and access to the people who were on the same journey as Jim. But for long-time fans who are looking for more, it just is not there.

For newer fans, this is a must-watch; let us face it, Jim Henson gains new fans daily. Just look at the history of Sesame Street and how many children grow up seeing complex Muppet’s Workshop (Jim Henson Creature Shop) creations like Bert & Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and so many more classic characters on TV or now streaming to tablets and phones. Sesame Street is at 54 seasons and still going strong, and Jim was there at the creation!

Please do not get mad at me, blame the biographer Brian Jay Jones and his book ‘Jim Henson: The Biography’. I read all 620 pages like it was a spy novel that I needed to find out who dunnit! Knowing the ending did not matter to me, but finding out HOW the ending happened left me in tears. The book is so well done and delves so deep into Jim’s life in such a fascinating way that anything that comes out kind of has to live up to that standard. So, Ron Howard does do an impressive job, he just focuses on the good, and maybe that is what the world needs more of, a focus on the good, and the good people do, and the good people bring to others. Let’s face it, that is exactly what Jim Henson did and still does to this day, what would be his 88th year on this earth!

‘Jim Henson Idea Man’ Review – Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans

He worked tirelessly, ruined friendships, ruined marriage, and did not have a great relationship with his children growing up. These are all touched on in a sentence here or there, but you could miss it if you aren’t listening closely. The man who brought so much joy to so many children has had a strained relationship with his own for many years. As any family will go through things have a way of working out, and they did, but give us the story so we can know Jim more in-depth!

Or, maybe, just maybe, Disney and Ron Howard are trying to gloss over the bad stuff. Yes, his marriage failed and that is discussed. But, this is where we could have dived deep. Lisa Henson wasn’t just his wife, but the Co-Owner and Co-Creator of The Muppets, and we could have spent more time getting to know their working relationship. She deserves her own biography! Jim Henson was very progressive except when it came to the woman’s role in a marriage and family structure.

What is not even mentioned towards the end of the documentary is the relationship between Jim and The Walt Disney Company, which ended in lawsuits, and some bad blood for many years, but you wouldn’t know that side of the story in this telling of his life.

Before I move on to the positive, and trust me there is so much positive, I want to mention one last negative. How the heck do you talk about Jim Henson’s life and not go into an hour-long discussion of the song ‘Rainbow Connection’.

We do get a great amount of time on “It’s Not Easy Being Green’ including the heartbreaking, soul-crushing, make-a-grown man sob, version that Big Bird sang at Jim Henson’s funeral.

This isn’t for long-time fans who know way too much about a childhood hero. But this is for fans new and old. It is a nostalgic act, a place to find old friends and reconnect with our past and our childhood. To see friends we haven’t seen in years! Friends like Cookie Monster, Kermit the Frog, The Swedish Chef, The Skexies, Ludo in Labyrinth, and so many more.

If you are like me, a father with kids who are just becoming adults age, who didn’t have streaming services as very young children, and who are finally finding their collective way to Jim and his creations! A person who feels like they have connected to their children in that fatherly role, but now are turning those fatherly relationships into true adult friendships. I actually like my kids, but they have turned that corner into adulthood, and now I really enjoy my kids as friends. They have the same sense of humor, the same wonderment about our world, and the same passion for just being a good person, and now I am spending time with them without having to always be the “dad”, I can be Greg.

This, and I truly mean this, is for my daughter! I teared up writing this because it is true. As a child, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock meant so much to me. As an adult who refuses to grow up, and lives next door to Disney World, my life became full circle recently when my 17-year-old daughter asked to watch The Muppets with me (you wanna talk about an emotional moment, with a core memory made, this was one of those). We have spent the past few months watching 1 or 2 episodes a day, and now we have added Fraggle Rock. Will she ever know how much this meant to me personally? Probably, she is an old soul who can read people’s emotions pretty well. I just hope this meant as much to her as it did to me.

This is made for a Muppet geeks wife. The one who connected with me over having the same image at Disney’s Hollywood Studios of a Fozzie Bear Street sign that said “Wokka Wokka This Way” when we met 24ish years ago. The one who will clap along to the Fraggle Rock intro song when she hears her daughter and husband watching. The woman who will sit through Muppet’s Vision 3D with her family, even as it gives her a headache from wearing the glasses. The one who took her oldest to Sesame Place over and over and over again.

And that is what Jim Henson did best. Bring families together, who can share some smiles and laughter. That is what this documentary does. Brings together the family, in just a water-down version of a man who was way more complex than an old lady’s green felt coat and a ping-pong ball cut in half.

Ron Howard’s ‘Jim Henson Idea Man’ is now airing on Disney+. I do not have a rating system, so let’s give this 3/5 Miss Piggy’s for the hard core Henson fan, and 4.5/5 Fozzie Bears for new fans.

'Jim Henson Idea Man' Review - Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans
‘Jim Henson Idea Man’ Review – Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans

‘Jim Henson Idea Man’ Review – Nostalgic, Frustrating, and A Bridge to New Fans

Leave a Comment