Today would have been Jim Henson’s 75th birthday. It is no secret among my friends and family that I love the Muppets. And so it seemed fitting to start of this new little “Why I ♥” post series I’ve been planning to do with Jim Henson and the Muppets.
Of course, I grew up watching Sesame Street, back before Elmo had his own line of anything, back when Snuffleupagus was Big Bird’s imaginary friend and no one else believed he was real. And I vaguely remember watching the Muppet Show and all the Muppet movies. Plus Labyrinth, which has long been one of my all-time favorite movies. Growing up when Jim Henson was still alive and behind all the new Muppet ventures was a magical thing, and I think my generation is particularly lucky.
What makes the Muppets so special, for me anyway, is that they are somehow this perfect blend of childhood and adulthood. They are joyous, energetic, not afraid to be surprised or to learn something new, but they are also whip-smart, sly, and knowing. The humor hits the balance between silly and dry, and it never gets old. The Muppets don’t talk down to kids. And they don’t talk up to adults. They are talking to everyone.
I love the post that Jim Henson’s son wrote for Google today. Especially the sense that “family” means anyone you love. And this: “Every day for him was joyously filled with the surprises of other people’s ideas. I often think that if we all lived like that, not only would life be more interesting, we’d all be a lot happier.” I’m lucky to have a job that lets me revel in other people’s ideas every day, too, and I agree that it’s one of the best things in life.
Plus, there’s the wild imagination. In the forms that the puppets take, in the worlds of Labyrinth or Dark Crystal or Fraggle Rock. In the storylines. Anything can happen. Anything can exist. And it can exist alongside us.
But perhaps what has always seemed most magical to me is that in almost everything Jim Henson created, the Muppets existed in our world. Sesame Street’s population was human and Muppets mixed together as though it could happen on any street. Even Labyrinth‘s world existed alongside our own, Sara just had to find her way in (and back out). The Fraggles live down below where human beings live.
Jim Henson gave me a world that could hold anything imaginable. You can go to a play and look up and maybe see Waldorf and Statler in the balcony. You could find a Fraggle in your backyard. The goblins could steal your baby brother. Oscar the Grouch might live in the garbage can in the alley. The world is full of surprising things, and all we have to do is see them.