Henson's Place: The Man Behind The Muppets
$12.50 on Amazon
Ryan Dosier - I'm thrilled to say that Lionsgate has done it again. They've taken an extremely rare Henson special, and released it on DVD for a new generation to enjoy. They started with Song of the Cloud Forest, carried on with Dog City: The Movie, and blew our minds with a release of Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting! Now, they've truly outdone themselves with the release of Henson's Place: The Man Behind The Muppets, a 1984 documentary that takes us inside the world of Jim Henson, giving us a glimpse at how he worked.
This is another Lionsgate DVD release that required the cooperation of the big three: Disney's Muppets Studio, Sesame Workshop, and The Jim Henson Company. It's really incredible that Lionsgate has gotten the three companies to cooperate, and it can only lead my optimistic Muppet fan mind to hope for releases of specials like The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years, and A Muppet Family Christmas on DVD some day. But who knows if that's at all probable.
As for the special itself, it's fantastic. I had never seen the documentary before watching it on DVD, and I have no idea why. It was marvelous and funny and thrilling. At one point, Big Bird walks into Jim Henson's office, offers him some chips, and props his feet up on the desk--just like a spoiled actor would do. It was priceless! Also priceless is hearing the likes of Michael Frith, David Lazer, Jane Henson, and more discuss their work with Jim.
The documentary is book-ended by "interviews" with Kermit and Miss Piggy. First, they're asked "Who is Jim Henson?" and the answers are predictably hilarious. At the end of the special their relationship is called into question... and you can probably also predict the hilarity here too, but I think the answers will still delight.
The special highlights Jim's early career with Sam and Friends, and his success with Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and a heavy focus on The Muppet Show. All throughout the special, various Henson high-rollers come in to discuss the genius that is Jim Henson; including Lord Grade and Frank Oz--both of whom are bald. There's a great moment where Frank discusses performing Piggy, Fozzie, and Animal. I had never really heard Frank talk about Animal, and it was awesome.
All in all, this special is wonderful and highly recommended. The whole thing is a delight from start to finish. The DVD is also the best that Lionsgate has released yet. Mostly because it's the first to truly come with a special feature--and it's an amazing one: a look inside The Amphibian, the 1985-1986 Henson Associates "yearbook." It's just incredible to look inside this historical document at all the faces who made up Henson 15 years ago. For me, this feature alone was worth the $10 the DVD cost me. The yearbook is introduced by Michael Frith and then the DVD takes you through every page individually with music playing in the background. It's truly awesome.
Unfortunately, the only place I've been able to find this DVD for sale is online. I've heard rumors that it's available at Fry's Electronics stores, but your best bet is to probably order from Amazon or the like. I can't recommend this DVD enough--especially because if enough people buy it, we're more likely to see more rare Henson specials on DVD.
The only small complaint I have about the DVD is that the picture quality is rather low, but then, what do you expect from a 1984 documentary? It's not enough to take the rating down from 5-Fozzies out of 5, and it really doesn't effect the special at all.
So, in conclusion, Lionsgate has done it again, and you should go support them by buying this awesome DVD!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier