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There's more than Muppets in "Jim Henson's Fantastic World"

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There's more than Muppets in "Jim Henson's Fantastic World"

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When you hear the name “Jim Henson,” what’s the first thing you think of? The Muppets, right?

Which is understandable. Given that Jim and his wife, Jane, created these much beloved characters back in the 1950s and that many of the film & television projects that Henson produced over the years starred Kermit the Frog & friends … It only stands to reason that most people would  automatically link Jim Henson’s name with the Muppets.

The only problem with doing that is … Well, it really sells Jim’s legacy short. Henson was an Oscar-nominated director, an Emmy Award-winning producer, one of the driving forces behind educational television in the United States. He was a writer, painter and designer. A visionary and an innovator. Not to mention being a loyal friend, good father and great boss.

So if you want to get a picture of this man that goes beyond Miss Piggy & pals, then you should probably check out “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World,” the traveling exhibit that just made a stop at Orlando’s Orange Country Regional History Center.

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

A co-production of the Jim Henson Legacy and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, (with cooperation from the Henson family, The Jim Henson Company, The Muppets Holding Company and Sesame Workshop), “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” is a 3,000 square-foot exhibit that touches on virtually every aspect of Henson’s life & career.

Oh, sure. You’ll find the stuff that you’d typically expect to find in an exhibit like this (i.e. Muppets under glass). There’s Rowlf the Dog

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

… (which – thanks to his appearance on “The Jimmy Dean Show” -- was Jim’s first real breakout character) as well as Ernie & Bert

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

… And – of course – Kermit the Frog.

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

But what’s really great about “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” is that this exhibit steps beyond the Muppets. It explores the length & breadth of Jim’s life. From the silly 9 year-old boy on his front lawn in Leland, Mississippi

… trying to snake charm the Henson Family garden hose, to the ambitious young businessman who created characters like Sir Linit …

which could then appear in television commercials

Jim Henson's Fantastic World

… which would then provide Jim with the funds he needed to produce his real passion projects. Take – for example -- “Time Piece,” the 9 minute-long experimental short that Henson made in 1966. Below is an image of a video display from “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” which syncs up the extensive series of storyboards that  Jim created for “Time Piece” as well as the finished film.

That – to my way of thinking, anyway – is the best part of “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World.” It gives you lots of great insight into the way Henson worked. How his characters that he created often started out as life as rough sketches …

… before the sculptors & seamstresses who worked in the Muppet workshop then brought Jim’s swiggly drawings to life.

As you wander through this exhibit, you get a sense of how truly inventive Jim Henson was. I mean, who else could up with the idea of strapping a tiny television to Caroll Spinney’s belly so that – when this veteran puppeteer was wearing his Big Bird costume – Caroll could then actually see where he was going.

So don’t make the mistake of labeling Jim Henson as just a puppeteer / muppeteer. This man was so much more than that. He was a playwright, painter …

… innovator.  Which you can discover for yourself by visiting the “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” exhibit at Orlando’s Orange County Regional History Center.

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” will be on display at the Orange County Regional History Center now through May 3rd. For further information on this exhibit as well as some of the special Muppet-related programming the OCRHC is offering (EX: This Saturday night, Jim’s daughter Cheryl will be hosting a screening of “The Dark Crystal”), please click on this link.

FYI: This traveling exhibit will be continuing on after its brief stop in Orlando. Here's the schedule (to date) for the rest of the "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" tour.

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  • "For further information on this exhibit as well as some of the special Muppet-related programming the OCRHC is offering (EX: This Saturday night, Jim’s daughter Cheryl will be hosting a screening of “The Dark Crystal”), please click on this link."  

    Click on what link? Am I missing it?  I'd love to know where else whill this exhibit be shown.

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