Jim Henson Idea Man, on Disney+

Jim Henson Idea Man, on Disney+

©Courtesy of Disney+

Jim Henson must be the most recognizable puppeteer in American pop culture history. Of course, his Muppets are even more famous. Initially, he wanted to work in the new medium of television and puppetry turned out to be a convenient entry point. As fans know, he would eventually create original creatures for classic series like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and even Saturday Night Live. Oscar-winning director Ron Howard surveys the Muppets creator’s life and career in Jim Henson Idea Man, which premieres Friday on Disney+.

Jim Henson Idea Man features a wealth of Henson’s early local TV work from the Henson family’s archive, some of which has never been seen commercially since their original airing. Clearly, he was honing his craft. In fact, it is easy to see footage of one of Rowlf the Dog’s regular appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show as a preview of what would come on The Muppet Show.

Appropriately, Henson’s four grown children, Lisa, Heather, Brian, and Cheryl, provide the film’s dominant voices. They frankly discuss life with their workaholic father and the slow crumbling of his marriage with their mother. However, Howard’s documentary is never scandalous or disillusioning, but rather understanding—and eventually elegiac.

Jim Henson : Idea Man

©Courtesy of Disney+

In fact, Howard and his interview subjects (notably including Frank Oz, the longtime voice and puppeteer of Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and other classic Muppet characters) constantly emphasize the playfulness of Henson’s personality and his body of work, even including his early so-called “experimental” shorts, like “Time.” As you would hope, there are generous clips of Henson’s enduring films and shows.

Frankly, a lot of Muppet super-fans might have forgotten Henson’s The Land of Gorch segments, which never caught on during their run on the first season of SNL, partly because Henson’s team were not allowed to write gags, due to Union rules. Yet, in retrospect, it represents a fascinating stepping stone to the runaway success of The Muppet Show.


Without question, nostalgia is the whole point of a documentary like Jim Henson Idea Man. Most viewers will immediately feel like they are revisiting their youth when they see vintage clips from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, the Muppet movies, as well as Henson’s darker fantasies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Fittingly, Jennifer Connelly, whom Howard directed in A Beautiful Mind, discusses the production of Henson’s 1990 cult classic, in considerable detail. However, the time and attention granted to the five-season Fraggle Rock is arguably a little light. Among Gen X-er’s, it is probably still the sentimental favorite HBO show of many, surpassing the likes of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones.

Jim Henson : Idea Man 1©Courtesy of Disney+

Weirdly, Howard uses an austere backdrop for his talking head sequences that appears deliberately reminiscent of Henson’s uncharacteristically fatalistic Cube. However, he earns style points for licensing Charles Mingus’s II B.S. for the opening titles. Remember, the Muppets were musically hip, having hosted jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Cleo Laine, as guest stars on The Muppet Show, so it is not out of place.

Regardless, there are a lot of endearing stories in Jim Henson Idea Man, including the bittersweet origins of Henson’s beloved alter-ego, Kermit the Frog. Seriously, is there anyone who would not enjoy taking a trip down memory lane with Kermit, Fozzie, Big Bird, and Bert & Ernie? When watching Jim Henson Idea Man, casual Muppets fans should get a full sense of just how much Henson continues to influence pop culture history, even though he died way back in 1990, at the tragically young age of 53.


More than anything, Jim Henson Idea Man will put viewers in the mood to re-watch classic TV moments, like Alice Cooper guest-starring on The Muppet Show. It should also motivate viewers to re-discover under-appreciated gems like The Dark Crystal. Honestly, everyone has a good deal of affection for Henson, because we all love the Muppets. Fortunately, Howard does his subject justice. Recommended for its gentle nostalgia and as a definitive history of an American cultural phenomenon, Jim Henson Idea Man premieres Friday (5/31) on Disney+. It also screens online Friday, June 7th (at 12:00pm EST) through Saturday, June 8th (at 11:59pm EST), as a selection of DOC NYC’s Spring Showcase.

Jim Henson Idea Man 3

©Courtesy of Disney+

Grade: B+

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