I watched the documentary, Jim Henson: Idea Man yesterday. I found it incredibly moving. I re-read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist frequently and just before watching the documentary, I was listening to the audiobook. One of the sections in the book urges you to “climb your own family tree,” picking a creative whose work you admire and learning about the work that influenced them. I often struggle with this part of things, with choosing who has influenced me.

But watching the documentary, I distinctly saw the influence of Henson and his collaborators, especially writer Jerry Juhl and performer/director Frank Oz, on my own artistic and comedic sensibilities. Here’s an example:

This structure, wherein Fozzie gives Kermit instructions that Kermit then follows far too literally, with Kermit increasing in his manic energy and Fozzie increasing in his frustration, is the bedrock of at least 50% or maybe more of my bits as an improv performer. A parallel structure:

Both of these are Henson and Oz, both with Oz as the straight man and Henson as the manic player. I adore this dynamic. So. Jim Henson. That’s the creative tree branch I’ll climb first.

The documentary itself is lovely. If you’re a Henson nerd (as I am), you’ll be delighted that there’s Sam and Friends and advertising footage that I don’t think you can find anywhere else. The narrative thrust is that Henson was a figure not unlike Lin Manuel Miranda’s interpretation of Alexander Hamilton, an artist with incredible drive and the sense that there would never be enough time to do everything he wanted to do, so he had to be doing work all the time. It does a good job honoring the importance of Henson’s work while honestly portraying the cost this had to his family. His son Brian Henson talks about the very different experience of being his son at home versus being his colleague working on Labyrinth.

A lot of the time narratives about Henson talk about the critical failure of Labyrinth destroying his confidence, but this documentary did a great job emphasizing that even in the face of that failure, his work continued: in the years after Labyrinth he created Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, and The Jim Henson Hour.

Overall, I think the documentary does a good job of showing that Henson was an ambitious artist with an incredible legacy and was, at the same time, just a human. I found it incredibly moving.

Here are a couple of fun links about Henson’s Kermit Car: